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Published on Monday, February 15, 2016

Lombok in the limelight: Talking tourism with Taufan Rahmadi

The Indonesian island of Lombok has seemingly forever been a destination pigeonholed in the 'next big thing' category, now finally easing its way slowly out of neighbouring Bali's shadow.  There has been a serious push by the Indonesian Tourism Ministry to disperse tourism traffic away from Bali's crowded beach resorts to the regions, with 10 new tourism destinations earmarked for major development and promotion. Lombok itself is perhaps most likely to succeed, able to leverage Bali's well established international air links and sharing the glow of its global exposure.
 
However much of Lombok's recent limelight on the global tourism stage is all its own doing. At the 2015 World Halal Travel Summit in Abu Dhabi late last year, Lombok took home coveted awards for the World's Best Halal Tourism Destination and the World's Best Halal Honeymoon Destination.
 
Taufan accepting award at World Halal Travel Summit
 
"This is a prestigious award and should be able to sharpen Lombok's positioning as a world-class halal tourism destination," Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said. Of course Lombok is much more than just a Muslim-friendly destination. Arguably for the first time, it now has both a global platform to build upon and a real commitment from regional and national tourism leaders. So what's next for Lombok as a tourism brand?  Travelmole's Ray Montgomery recently sat down with Taufan Rahmadi, Chairman of West Nusa Tenggara Tourism Promotion Board.
 
From day one, Taufan has been on a mission to 'create a wave,' and in doing so virtually transform the mindset of conventional tourism promotion in the regions. The Nusa Tenggara Barat (NTB) province - comprising Lombok and neighbouring Sumbawa - has a tourism promotion budget of a miserly rp 6 billion (about $450,000) which is less than 10% of Bali's funding. These limited resources call for a more creative approach, says Taufan.
 
"This wave of creative power comes from social media, communications and importantly, bringing people together as destination ambassadors to promote the region. People are the backbone of promotion. These are the tools of our trade."
 
"We harness the energy of a growing army of savvy local people to volunteer and promote the region, as well as young people from other Indonesian regions and also from overseas, through social media postings, peer outreach and blogging." 
 
Many migrant workers who have left the region to work overseas have been closely involved in the volunteer program from the outset, helping to spread the word in hitherto untapped overseas markets. There is a strong presence in Australia but also growing source markets like South Korea and parts of Europe.
 
In Lombok, even the lack of a salary on offer hasn't dissuaded highly qualified people from getting involved in the project. Videographers, event planners, designers and even a university communications lecturer all donate their hard earned free time to the cause. The strategy is a simple one - to engage with peers, influencers and other tourism stakeholders in meaningful ways to showcase the NTB brand message. That includes gimmick-free tourism promotion in its purest form. Next month a team will begin spreading the word at local schools throughout Lombok and Sumbawa.  It's never too early to 'create a wave.' 
 
Taufan's feverish enthusiasm for the Lombok Sumbawa brand is very evident and you get the impression he rarely takes no for an answer. In the last 12 months he has been able to negotiate high value, free exposure for the destination with in-flight video screenings across the Garuda Indonesia route network (including an unique Lombok focused 'catwalk in the sky') and a marketing partnership with telecommunications giant Telkomsel, reaching the company's nine million users. 
 
In fact Lombok's nomination and ultimate double victory at the World Halal Travel Summit simply grew from a single speculative phone call from the award organizer several months earlier. That phone call, Taufan says, ultimately resulted in huge global exposure for the region reaching an estimated 19 million people. 
 
In just a few short months, this network of passionate social media foot soldiers has grown to more than 70-strong, with more people - locals and international travel bloggers alike - encouraged to join in and share their passion with the world.  
 
Taufan wants to take this 'movement' nationwide to establish similar volunteer programs in every Indonesian region.The benefits of this collaborative effort are obvious with little to no financial outlay producing stellar results, while it has a very authentic storytelling angle produced by people living in the very communities it is showcasing.
 
Could this be a new template for tourism promotion for emerging destinations?   

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