Indonesia seeks to become a contender for tourism

Indonesia’s economy has become a bright light amid global economic gloom, with strong growth drawing new attention from international investors. Officials say the country’s economic potential, however, is not the only thing worth promoting. An effort is underway to export the country’s cultural traditions to new audiences abroad.

Indonesia’s economy recently made global news for growth that beat most economists’ expectations. Strong domestic spending in the world’s fourth most populous country has sparked investor interest.

But with all the attention pointed toward the economy, artists, culinary experts and some officials now say not enough attention is being paid to promoting the country’s cultural riches.

Mari Pangestu, the head of the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, said that needs to change.

“We need to develop creative industries because it has a lot of economic potential, but it’s also important because it has a lot of potential for raising the image of a country,” said Ms. Pangestu.

Her ministry has 15 subsectors that focus on building support for creative industries, including films, fashion and culinary traditions. She said food, in particular, can have a powerful impact on showcasing a culture, and can help to generate increased tourism.

To better tout Indonesian cuisine, the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy plans to identify a few iconic Indonesian dishes that are already known internationally and then focus on promoting their history and roots for foreign consumers.

Rendang curry, a spicy meat dish cooked for hours in coconut milk with ginger, lemongrass, chilies and other spices, is at the heart of those discussions.

William Wongso, a culinary expert who travels around the world extolling the taste sensations of rendang, said the dish is the gateway to popularizing Indonesian cuisine abroad.

In addition to food, fashion labels are also working to promote Indonesian heritage by mixing traditional patterns and images with contemporary trends. One of the most notable is “Damn, I love Indonesia,” a line that started in 2008 by screen printing tee-shirts with cultural symbols or pop-art images of political icons like Indonesia’s first president Sukarno.

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