Domestic travel industry shows signs of recovery

Debnath Guharoy, Consultant

Though the Indonesian transport industry has yet to make a full recovery from the crash of September 2005, it is on an upward trend.

It is poised to win back much of the ground lost as a consequence of the fuel price hikes that year. There will be no fundamental change in the demographics of travelers, either.

The number of females taking trips will be almost as many as the number of males. The younger population will be traveling more than their counterparts who are older than-50, as was the case in the past.

The number of short-trip travellers has always been higher than for long trips. The actual number of short-trip travellers each quarter is traditionally about 10 percent higher than the number of people who are intending to travel.

This is a characteristic of the industry, reflecting the need for unforeseen or unplanned travel sometimes. Similarly, the intention to travel on long trips is usually about 20 percent higher than the number of long trips taken as aspirations and plans get affected by the pressing demands of everyday life.

From 26 million travellers who moved around by land in the 12 months to March 2005, the number dipped to below 18 million as of December 2005, and has gradually clawed its way back to over 21 million at the close of 2006.

Demand overall is still lower, with around 16 million people currently intending to travel in the next 12 months. This includes some 7 million long-trip intenders, over a million of whom will scuttle their plans for unforeseen reasons. That number should be more than compensated for by the number of unplanned short-trip takers, as usual.

This forecast is based on the land, sea and air travel trends continuously measured by Roy Morgan Single Source, without including the everyday use of transportation. Indonesia's largest syndicated survey, the study is now expanding to include over 27,000 respondents this year, projected to reflect the behavior of 90 percent of the population over the age of 14.

Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of travel is within Indonesia. The most popular form of transport is by land, such as buses and trains, followed by air and sea. Only one in seven people get to travel each year, mostly from the mid- and lower-income brackets, in keeping with the structure of Indonesian society. Travel tapers off with age.

However, air travel is not the sole prerogative of Indonesia's small upper-income bracket. Understandably, a disproportionately bigger number of the well-to-do travels by air, but there are just as many less fortunates traveling by air within the country.

Of all Indonesians flying both domestic and international routes, two out of three are traveling for personal reasons or on holiday. If jet fuel prices remain stable and there are no more horror stories, for a while at least, the aviation industry should continue its steady recovery and achieve new heights.

Of the three big metros, Greater Jakarta, Greater Surabaya and Greater Bandung, it is the residents of West Java's capital that are the nation's most avid travellers. 26 percent of the people of Bandung, 24 percent of the people of Surabaya and 16 percent of Jakartans intend to travel next in the next 12 months.

While most of them will, of course, travel to visit family and friends within Indonesia, there are currently almost 2 million people around the country who would like to go overseas next year. About 1.5 million want to travel within the Asia Pacific region, 330,000 to Europe, 150,000 to America and 50,000 to Australia.

I should point out that they include all Indonesian frequent flyers, but exclude resident expatriates and travellers from overseas. To state the obvious, some people fly often but will be counted only as one person, not as several "passengers". As always, plans for about 20 percent of intenders are likely to fall by the wayside.

While the so-called War on Terror continues, Bali and Indonesia as a whole will remain adversely affected in the minds of overseas visitors, especially those from the West. But with the domestic consumer economy chugging along nicely, the potential to encourage internal and regional travellers remains a viable prospect for airlines and hotels alike.

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