JAKARTA, June 3 – Indonesia has proposed that members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) initiate a visa-free arrangement to boost tourism. Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Elka Pangestu said she had proposed that the OIC initiate a visa facilitation arrangement among member countries. “The aim is to ease movement which would boost the number of tourists,” she told reporters on the sidelines of the opening of the OIC Inaugural International Forum on Islamic Tourism here on Monday.

Mari was quoted as saying by the Jakarta Post that the facilitation could be modelled after the Asean visa-free programme. “(In) 2012, the Muslim world spent around US$137 billion on travel or about 12.5 per cent of the global spending. This figure does not include spending on the haj and umrah,” she said. Mari said Malaysia remained the favoured destination of Middle Eastern travellers for Islamic (Syariah) tourism. “Around 30 per cent of tourists to Malaysia are from Middle Eastern countries while they only account for between 10 and 15 per cent of our foreign tourists,” she said.

Data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) shows that four OIC member countries top the list of the fastest-growing number of tourists arriving in the archipelago in the first four months of this year. Bahrain topped the list with 73.56 per cent growth, followed by Saudi Arabia (54.42 per cent), United Arab Emirates (49.58 per cent) and Egypt (38.07 per cent), the data shows. Indonesian Vice President Boediono, in his opening speech, said the two-day inaugural OIC forum should address the challenges to developing Islamic tourism among the 57 member countries.

“One of the main challenges is the education of the public on the principles of Syariah tourism. This event is an opportunity to initiate cooperation and be more active,” he said. Last year, the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry launched an initiative to develop Syariah tourism and promote Indonesia as a Muslim-friendly tourist destination, teaming up with the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) to create guidelines for developing the concept in four areas – hotels, restaurants, travel agents and spas. The government chose 13 provinces to serve as major Syariah destinations, namely Aceh, West Sumatera, Riau, Lampung, Banten, Jakarta, West Java, Central Java, Yogyakarta, East Java, Bali, West Nusa Tenggara and South Sulawesi.

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