Indonesia expects 2.1 million Chinese tourists this year

Indonesia expects Chinese arrivals to jump this year, since it has developed special historical destinations, boosted supportive policies and stepped up promotions, a senior tourism official says.

China and Indonesia have strong historical backgrounds. This has become one of the main engines for both countries' tourism industries, says the Indonesian Tourism Ministry's deputy for overseas promotion, I Gde Pitana.

"China is the main market for us. In 2016, it will be the biggest market, (overtaking) Singapore, Australia and Malaysia," Pitana says.

The archipelago expects 2.1 million Chinese, compared with last year's target of 1.3 million, he says. That's over a sixth of the 2016 goal of 12 million total inbound travelers. The country received 10 million last year, the ministry says.

The reasons for the much higher expectations for Chinese visitors are promotional campaigns, and cultural-and historical-destination development, in addition to a new visa-on-arrival policy adopted last June.

A total solar eclipse will also be visible from parts of Indonesia this spring.

Nearly 120 million Chinese traveled overseas last year, but Southeast Asia only claims a small slice, Pitana says. About 6 million visited Thailand, and 2 million headed to Singapore, Pitana says.

The global tourism industry has bestowed many accolades on Indonesia. The country won three awards out of four at the 12th United Nations World Tourism Organization Awards Forum and three out of six at the ASEAN Travel Association Forum.

"This indicates what we have done is in line with international standards," Pitana says.

"We expect Chinese visitors to be convinced of the appropriateness of Indonesia as a tourist destination."

Indonesia has since September 2014 prepared to receive more Chinese, especially during China's Lunar New Year, known in the island nation as Imlek, he says.

"For the preparations of the Imlek, we have cooperated with all stakeholders and made preparations in several provinces, including how to organize celebrations for welcoming Chinese visitors."

The tropical nation will witness a total solar eclipse on March 9, about a month after this year's Imlek rush.

"There will be 10 cities where you can witness the eclipse, which happens once in hundreds of years. The longest eclipse will be visible in Sulawesi Island-six minutes ... Preparations have been made to welcome visitors to experience the rare event, including facilities at sea," he says.

Over a hundred yachts and a replica of the legendary ship from Indonesia's ancient Majapahit Kingdom will offer views of the eclipse around Bangka Belitung Island.

Separately, several Indonesian destinations host sites visited by acclaimed Chinese explorer Zheng He, who pioneered the ancient Maritime Silk Road in the 15th century.

"We have a celebration of the journey of Commodore Cheng Ho (Zheng He) every year," Pitana says.

Indeed, it seems likely more Chinese will be following in his footsteps, half a millennia later, to explore the island nation, as tourists rather than traders.