In a bid to boost the number of foreign tourists, Indonesia will officially waive visa requirements for visitors from Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia wishing to travel to the country, starting in January 2015.
Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Indroyono Soesilo said on Wednesday that the visa exemption policy for the five countries had been agreed to during a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. He said that with the visa-free policy, Indonesia was expecting to welcome around 450,000 additional foreign tourists per year.
"By waiving visa requirements for these countries, it is estimated that US$11.3 million (S$15 million) per year is lost, as we currently charge $35 per tourist for visas," Indroyono told reporters in a press conference on Wednesday.
"However, with an average spending of $1,200 per tourist, we will gain around $540 million in additional foreign exchange per year by providing visa facilitation," he continued.
Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said that the visa-free arrangement could be implemented on a reciprocal basis, as well as a benefits basis, and that the government would see more benefits by exempting visa requirements for these countries, which with their strong purchasing power were among the country's 15 main markets.
Indonesia is currently providing visas on arrival for tourists from Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.
Japan is already in the process of passing a visa-waiver policy for Indonesian e-passport holders traveling to Japan for fewer than 15 days.
Former foreign minister Marty Natalegawa previously said the visa waiver would likely take effect around January 2015 and that Indonesia was also working on a policy to waive visa requirements for Japanese citizens visiting Indonesia.
Meanwhile, Australian Embassy spokesperson Ray Marcelo said that he was not aware of the plan and could not yet respond on the matter, nor on whether Australia would implement the same policy in the future.
According to Arief, based on research, countries that implement visa-free policies get an additional 5 to 25 per cent growth in the numbers of foreign tourists.
"With the visa exemptions the ministry is optimistic about recording 10 million foreign arrivals next year and 20 million foreign arrivals in 2019," the minister said.
Data from the ministry shows that South Korea succeeded in increasing the number of tourists it got from China by 64.5 per cent between 2005 and 2009 after implementing a visa-free policy.
Hong Kong was also able to increase the number of Russian tourists it got by 133 per cent between 2008 and 2010 after exempting Russians from having to get visas.
"We think this is the fastest way to invite more foreign tourists to the country. Nonetheless, we also need to improve the services in the tourism destinations to increase the tourists' spending," he continued.
Indonesia currently only applies visa-free access to citizens of 15 countries: nine ASEAN member countries, as well as Peru, Chile, Hong Kong, Morocco, Ecuador and Macau.
The number is very small as compared to Malaysia, which provides visa exemptions to 164 countries, and Thailand, which waives visa requirements for 56 countries.
The impact of the policy is shown by the number of foreign visitors to Malaysia and Thailand last year, which reached 25.7 million and 26.5 million, respectively. Indonesia only welcomed a total of 8.8 million foreign tourists in 2013.
Arief also said that in the future, the government would grant visa-free access for travelers transiting through Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.
"We are still preparing the mechanism, as well as the marketing strategy, to attract foreign tourists who are entering from these countries, which are visited by a total of 66 million foreign tourists per year," Arief said.