Tourism often sees tradeoffs between economic, social and environmental interests, but when COVID-19 emerged one city found opportunities.
Surakarta, an Indonesian city at the intersection between busy Yogyakarta and East Java, has long been a popular tourist spot. Tourism has historically contributed more than 25 percent of the city’s GDP. COVID-19 put an end to Surakata’s rapid tourism growth, but now it’s recovering it’s looking to sustainability.
In 2020, Indonesia experienced a decline in the number of foreign tourists of 75 percent, and 30 percent for domestic tourists, impacting some 34 million Indonesians who depend on the tourism sector and the creative industry for their income.
As the tourists return to Surakarta, researchers have built a framework to help the city sustainably grow.
For example, as the city plays an important role in cultural tourism, especially being a pool of innovation and creativity in promoting cultural products and experiences, it could prioritise local communities to embrace culture in alternative ways. City leaders can consolidate alliances with technology and media partners, develop tourism experiences based on the cultural uniqueness of destinations across different fields including cultural heritage, gastronomy, design patterns and other forms of local cultural expressions.
To maintain sustainability in local economic development, the municipality could consider a communication platform to encourage co-creation and elicit more participation from local communities. Local governments can provide support with policies, such as (1) supporting local business owners with business coaching and financial support; (2) ensuring a fair proportion of total tourist expenditure is distributed locally; (3) prioritising employment of local labour, and (4) strengthening local supply chains.
The municipality could push Surakarta’s inherent strengths as a city rich in cultural assets, and its strategic location for investment. Cooperation between Surakarta and its surrounding areas would enhance connectivity through the integration of public transportation systems.
Surakarta is also in a prime position to address women’s participation in community-based tourism, bringing even greater benefit to families and communities. Since tourism is very dependent on seasonality and may not be a major income source for the neighbourhood, cities could encourage women business owners, offering them social and legal protection in a society where it’s expected men are responsible for work and women are responsible for taking care of the house and children. Relying on tourism as the family’s main source of income is risky, so nurturing women to own a small business can empower them to be more productive, generate a side income and have flexibility in managing their working time while taking care of their home and children.
The government of Surakarta could increase support by formulating relevant regulations and strengthening education, promoting local character, and assisting with tour packaging, internet marketing and social media. Indonesia’s digital transition can play an important role in attracting more tourism to the country.
Surakarta, once a royal city, has the opportunity to differentiate itself from other built-up areas, but only with a clear strategy and action plan. Data summarising who is actively working in the tourism sector is also very important in providing training support and economic incentives.
As global tourism destinations begin to welcome tourists back, cities with cultural tourism have an important role to play as the main gateway to other travel for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE).
COVID-19 taught us the risks of heavy dependency on the tourism sector. Getting it wrong manifests in low paid seasonal jobs, congestion and expensive infrastructure that is dependent on intensive tourism. As local economies remain vulnerable to global crisis, natural disasters and pandemics, sustainable tourism offers a way forward.
Valid Hasyimi is pursuing his PhD in School of Business Management in Bandung Institute of Technology Indonesia.
Hossny Azizalrahman is an associate professor in King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah Kingdom of Saudi. His research interests are land use planning and legislation.
Santi Novani is a lecturer in the School of Business Management, Bandung Institute of Technology Indonesia. Her research focused on service science, decision-making, and negotiation.All authors express no conflict of interest and do not receive special funds in any form.