INDONESIA has been intensively promoting the development of halal tourism in numerous provinces to attract more tourists from Muslim countries.
Currently, the Ministry of Tourism has highlighted the importance of developing the Lake Toba area in the province of North Sumatra as another halal tourism destination in Indonesia.
Halal tourism is considered important to be developed in the Lake Toba area since it has the potential to attract foreign tourists, especially from the Middle East or Malaysia.
Tourism Minister Arief Yahya has stated that the aspect of halal tourism has been given serious thought in connection with the tourism attractions around lake since most foreign tourists visiting Lake Toba are generally Muslims from Malaysia.
Hence, the Samosir district government has reiterated the importance of promoting halal tourism in Lake Toba and has taken the necessary steps to this end.
Samosir District Head Rapidin Simbolon pointed out that several locations in the district already sell halal food items to Muslim tourists.
Samosir is an island, almost the size of Singapore, in the center of Lake Toba, one of the natural wonders of the world.
This enormous crater lake is actually more like an ocean and the largest in Southeast Asia and one of the deepest lakes in the world.
The government is currently making all-out efforts to accelerate the development of road infrastructure, including a railway line from the city of Medan to Lake Toba, where visitors can sit back, unwind, and absorb some beautiful pristine scenery.
As visitors sit and enjoy the view of the picturesque mountains set against the cool clear lake, they will feel their worries of the world melt away.
Since Lake Toba sits some 900 meters above sea level, the climate is cooler, thereby making it a refreshing break from the heat, humidity, and pollution of the cities.
Hence, Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi has highlighted the government`s commitment to develop the railway line to meet the transportation needs due to the spike in the growth of tourists who will visit Lake Toba, in particular, and North Sumatra, in general.
The transportation minister believes that North Sumatra is a viable area for development, and the government is keen to improve the transportation infrastructure, especially to Lake Toba.
To build the railway line to Lake Toba from Medan City, the government is currently conducting a feasibility study, and the project is expected to be realized soon.
Furthermore, the transportation minister expressed hope that once the railway line from Medan to Toba is completed, the people and tourists can use the mode of transportation apart from buses or cars.
Toba has become a major tourist destination in North Sumatra and should also be easily accessible by tourists, according to the minister.
If the construction of this railway line is completed, tourists are believed to more likely visit Toba by train, as they can get plenty of opportunities to enjoy the scenic beauty along their journey.
With the availability of adequate infrastructure, it is expected that more domestic and foreign tourists would visit Lake Toba.
Lake Toba is one of the 10 main tourist destinations in Indonesia along with the Borobudur temple, Mandalika, Labuhan Bajo, and Thousand Islands, apart from Wakatobi, Tanjung Lesung, Morotai, and Tanjung Kelayang.
President Joko Widodo has instructed the relevant ministers to boost tourism, connectivity, and accessibility by developing infrastructure, such as airports, roads, and ports.
The president has also emphasized the need to prepare a branding strategy that can be used for marketing, offering services of international standards, and showcasing art and cultural attractions through good choreography and attractive designs.
According to the president, all tourism services and facilities in the lake area must be upgraded to meet international standards.
The head of the state also called for improving the tourism attractions that visitors throng in the lake area.
"Art and cultural attractions should be on display in a well-choreographed manner and should be attractively designed," he remarked.
The president has also instructed to improve connectivity with Lake Toba and its surrounding areas to make them more accessible. To this end, seaport and airport infrastructure in North Sumatra must also be developed further.
Meanwhile Tourism Affairs Minister Arief Yahya has expressed optimism that Lake Toba in the Indonesian province of North Sumatra would become a top tourist destination in the world, attracting scores of domestic and foreign tourists.
According to the tourism minister, the development of Lake Toba must not remain stagnant and must continue as planned.
One of the key reasons for the success in developing tourism at Lake Toba is the fact that the management is being undertaken jointly by the heads of seven surrounding districts: Samosir, Toba Samosir, Simalungun, Tapanuli Utara, Karo, Dairi, and Humbang Hasundutan.
Lake Toba has been designated by the government as a tourist destination of international standard in an effort to improve the living conditions of the local population.
In an effort to develop the area into an international-standard tourist destination, the Lake Toba Tourism Authority Board (BPODT) requires a budget of Rp21 trillion.
BPODT Finance Director Faisal remarked that such a huge budget to support the development of Lake Toba to attract one million tourists in 2019 must be backed not only by the central government but also the local government and private parties.
Funds worth Rp21 trillion from the government and private parties will be needed to develop the Lake Toba area into a world-class tourism destination, with a target to attract one million tourists in 2019, Faisal reiterated.
The BPODT finance director explained that the number of tourist arrivals in North Sumatra and Lake Toba, in particular, had decreased by 270 thousand in 2014 due to accessibility constraints to Lake Toba, which can only be reached from the Kualanamu airport.
"It can take four to five hours to reach Parapat from the Kualanamu airport. Hence, the government must take serious steps to develop the Lake Toba area by prioritizing transportation infrastructure," he noted.
Developing Silangit Airport into an international airport to attract Singaporean tourists as well as various other infrastructure, such as the Tebing Tinggi-Pematang Siantar-Parapat highway, and revitalizing the four-point crossing to Samosir is expected to help realize the target of one million tourist arrivals in 2019.
Faisal admitted that the target to attract a million tourists was no easy task if one were to solely rely on the budget from the central government. He expressed hope that the provincial government of North Sumatra and the regional governments would prioritize tourism as a sector that contributes to the local revenue.
The central government has outlined numerous steps to accelerate the development of Lake Toba as a strategic tourism area into the Monaco of Asia.
Steps to accelerate the development of the Lake Toba area are extending the Sibisa airport`s runway in Tobasa District, constructing hotels and accommodations in the Lake Toba area, building a toll road from the Kualanamu Airport to Prapat, dredging and deepening the lake in the Tano Ponggol area, allocating 500 hectares of land for "ecotourism," and intensively promoting Lake Toba, among others. [antaranews/photo special]