Walking into the grand conference room of Jakarta’s Gedung Menara Pesona, Mr Arief Yahya has a strong stride and an authoritative smile: this man means business when it comes to discussing Indonesia’s plans for boosting tourism. The straight-shooting minister easily commands the attention of his audiences with a powerful presence. Immediately after warm greetings and words of acknowledgement, the minister finds his seat and gets straight to the core of the matter. “Let’s get into it right away. What should we to discuss first?” he boldly asks.

Mr Yahya’s candid approach to interviews is a telling clue to the minister’s straightforward method in constructing a sound strategy for Indonesia’s tourism. Diving straight to the subject matter, the minister tells Indonesia Tatler that, “Indonesia is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Our slogan is ‘Wonderful Indonesia.’ Yet what we lack is sound marketing. We need to boost tourists’ awareness of the many things Indonesia has to offer.”

Mr Yahya sees the obstacles that Indonesian tourism faces from an entirely different perspective than his predecessors. Viewing the hurdles as factors that can be transformed into advantages, the optimistic minister believes that seeing problems as they are, from an honest point of view, is the key to discovering sound solutions. “The problems we are facing right now boil down to inefficiencies in marketing our product,” he says. “We need to see Indonesia solely as a product. Right now, we don’t have a good branding strategy to reach the right target market.” With the majority of foreign tourists originating from ASEAN countries, Mr Yahya is focusing his efforts on promoting Indonesian tourism within Southeast Asia. Some might question his seemingly limited approach in concentrating his efforts in this specific region, yet the minister stands by his strategy.

“During the recent Asia-Africa Conference, I was asked by a journalist about what I was planning to do to promote Indonesian tourism in Africa,” he says. “In turn, I asked him if he wanted to hear the honest answer or the diplomatic answer. Africa is not our target market, and we want to reach a market with returning customers. Those are the markets we should invest in.” Mr Yahya’s strategy on focusing tourism efforts on a ripe market has already proven to be an advantageous one.

During his years, Indonesia has jumped from being ranked 70th in the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report to 50th. “We still have a long way to go, but the huge leap shows that we are on the right track,” says Mr. Yahya with a smile. Although understanding the target audience has proven effective in boosting Indonesian tourism, the other half of the question still remains unanswered: What to promote? With an abundance of natural wonders and breathtaking sights, Indonesia is in no shortage of potential tourist destinations. Yet many islands with clear blue waters and lush greenery are in remote locations, their treasures hidden and unnoticed.

“We lead with our top products,” says the minister. “In this case, our leading product is Bali. When we’ve succeeded with that, the rest will follow. “We do have quite a bit of work when it comes to promoting other destinations, since we need to improve connectivity and infrastructure. Right now, tourists who wish to visit Papua New Guinea, for example, often experience difficulties in travelling. We need to make it easier for tourists to visit other destinations in Indonesia.”

Other efforts in promoting Indonesian tourism include venturing into the world of technology, an area which Mr Yahya is very familiar with. Having served as a CEO of one of Indonesia’s largest telecommunications companies prior to his tenure as a minister, Mr Yahya utilises his experience in information technology to tap into raw data, dissecting and categorising potential tourists’ preferences and habits to gain valuable insight to new markets.

“We are using new ways to get to know who our consumers are. With digital analysis, we can acquire data through potential consumers’ online habits,” he explains enthusiastically. “Data that is acquired in this manner doesn’t lie. It’s like looking at someone’s browsing history: you get a peek into who they are, and what their likes and dislikes are. By knowing their personal preferences, we get to communicate with them on a more intimate level. It’s a much more efficient way of tapping into a potential market.” While Indonesia still faces challenges in the tourism sector, the country is moving rapidly in the right direction. The efforts of the tourism board seem to strike right at the heart of the problem, gradually eliminating the persistent obstacles that previously plagued the sector.

“The key to true progress is looking at the problem from an unbiased point of view,” Mr Yahya says. “Once we know what the real problem is, we can work toward finding the right solutions.” When asked what he wishes visitors to take away from a visit to Indonesia, he notes that, “Indonesia is a country of many wonders. I hope that visitors will be able to see the true Indonesia and discover the treasures that could be discovered in the most unexpected places in the country.”