To improve the country’s tourism industry, Indonesian government launched Visit Indonesia Year (VIY) 2008. The goal of this program is to attract seven million foreign tourists and earn US$ 6.4 billion in foreign exchange. Too optimistic? Maybe. But it sure is needed. Indonesia’s tourism has been in ‘coma’ for too long. One of so many reasons is because most embassies are making a mountain out of an ant hill when it comes to Indonesia’s travel warning. Other than that, there’s bird flu, tsunami, earthquakes, or mudflow,  that scare people away.

Like Albert Einstein said, “Great ideas often receive violent opposition from mediocre minds.” And so did VIY 2008. The first was about its campaign slogan blunder. The original one “Visit Indonesia 2008 – Celebrating 100 Years of Nation’s Awakening” was criticized because it was ‘gramatically incorrect’.  After John Aglionby ranted about it in his article ‘Catchy Slogan’ published in the ‘Financial Times’, it quickly changed to “Celebrating 100 Years of National Awakening”. But it was not quick enough. Indonesia was a laughing stock. From news media to bloggers, all were pointing at how awkward it must be to take the slogan off of various promotional items, such as the national aircrafts, posters, etc. It was a huge mess. Personally, I’d be very forgiving to such mishap. Heck, I probably would do the same mistake, being wasn’t born with English as my mother tongue; nor raised and educated with English as the primary language.

Others attacked the ‘National Awakening’ part. A posting at Lonely Planet’s forum asked how would a foreigner know what’s the meaning of it. How would they know anything that happened 100 years ago in Indonesia that caused a national awakening? It was the Budi Utomo movement, you said. Budi who? they continued. It does sound rather patriotic, and Indonesians are. But to catch potential foreign tourists’ attention, I wish they’d use a shorter, simpler, and easy to understand slogan.

Then people bitch about the TV commercial teaser. They were saying that it made Indonesia looks like tribemen country. That it was showing things that tourists wouldn’t [wouldn’t be able to] do; like when a dark tribeman (Irian?) was rowing his boat at night. Come on… would you rather see shopping malls? A lame almost naked gorgeous woman was getting a massage just like in any other tourism commercials? Or a couple was having a candle light dinner? I appreciate the idea of showing so many diversity in Indonesia. So colorful (the Toraja men with the famous stone jumping). So pretty (the Balinese dancer). So intriguing (yeah… what was that guy doing with his boat in the middle of the night?).

The timing of VIY this year was sarcastically praised. A blog I read mentioned that Indonesian government was brave enough to compete with bigger events such as Beijing Olympics. With all seriousness, if we were to wait until there’s no other big events going on in the world, when would it be? Oh for heaven’s sake…

But like my favorite Indonesian proverb says, “Anjing menggonggong, kafilah tetap berlalu” or translated in English as ‘the dogs are barking, the caravan moves on’ meaning ‘useless protest, criticism, or sarcasm’. With all attacks coming from left and right, VIY 2008 carries on. Whether the infrastructure is up and about or not, whether the capital city Jakarta’s air is still polluted or not, whether the government is still corrupt or not. It’s my country. For better or worst, I’m right behind you.

So pack your bags, get your passport, bring your open-minded attitude, and buy your tickets to visit Indonesia. Who knows, you might be the first person in your town who ever see an orangutan or komodo dragon in their own habitat, not in a zoo. Or you could go to one of 17,000 islands that might disappear in the near future due to the global warming. You might entitled to boast to Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmerman after you tackle eating durian, cow’s brain, or drink jamu.

VIY 2008 official site.