By: Marcus Phillips, About 700 years ago Marco Polo from Venice, Italy, was the first tourist to visit North Sumatera at Barus and Loksumawe, Aceh, but it wasn’t until 150 years ago when the European colonialist and missionary began coming. But this was for business although they began as tourist to Berastagi and Parapat for recreation and relaxation.
Then in 1970’s surfers and hippy travellers began visit Nias and Danau Toba to experience the spectacular nature and culture of Batak people. Danau Toba became the 2nd most famous destination in Indonesia, after Bali. Those travellers were happy to stay in a traditional Batak house, swim in the lake, eat nasicampur and smoke and play music with the local people enjoying a relaxed lifestyle.
Nowadays tourists want to enjoy the same activities but most want more comfortable accommodation and services. Up until 1997 tourism increased rapidly but because of bad propaganda and disaster crisis, the number of tourists coming to North Sumatera fell rapidly. Fear and reputation is the reason for this. Smoke from forest fires, riots in cities, malaria, war in Aceh, Jakarta and Bali bombs, global war against Islam after 9/11, visa requirements, tsunami and earthquake, thieving from tourists and lack of promotion all contributed to Sumatera becoming a ‘forgotten destination’. But those travellers and surfers who continued to come enjoyed the paradise for bargain price.
Tourism in North Sumatera is different from Bali. Many tourists go to Bali to stay in a luxury 5-stars resort on the beach. Most tourists who come to North Sumatera still want to explore the nature and experience the culture.
Since 2009 tourism in North Sumatera has been increasing again. Eco-tourism is the buzz word. Hiking to a volcano and jungle tracking to see orangutan are still popular activities. Cycling or mountain biking to visit traditional villages are farms of coffee, tea and fruit is also an attraction. Off-road 4 wheel drive or motorbike touring is also popular. Canoing, kayaking and sailing on lake Toba are what tourists like.
Tourism promotion should be focused on providing the services tourist want and marketing thses services. The potential for tourism in North Sumatera is huge. Focus and cooperation is what is required.