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How Banyuwangi grows an economy through creative engagement

Jazz Gunung Banyuwangi 2012. jazzuality/flickr, CC BY-SA

Banyuwangi regency in the eastern part of Java island is an interesting lesson in how to grow an economy in the age of environmental crisis and digital media.

Its strategic development, especially in tourism, has led to Banyuwangi becoming the most promising regency in East Java.

The number of tourists visiting Banyuwangi in a year jumped five fold from 802,475 in 2011 to 5,039,132 in 2018.

The tourism industry has triggered local economic development, enabling Banyuwangi to become the fastest growing economy in the easternmost horseshoe region of Java.

Its economy grew 5.84% despite Indonesia’s year-on-year growth slowing to 5.02% by the third quarter 2019.

The town’s hotel room occupancy rate is strong and peaks during Indonesian public holidays, reflecting its popularity as a domestic getaway thanks to almost a decade of progressive local government policies, investments in environmental sustainability and the arts, and their promotion through digital media.

Innovative local government

Banyuwangi also figures strongly in Indonesia’s innovation rankings. The Ministry of Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform ranked Banyuwangi Festival as its Top 45 public service innovation in 2019 from over 3,000 submissions from regions around the country.

Banyuwangi has steadily built its repertoire of arts and multicultural festivals from 12 in 2012 to 99 in 2019, drawing in domestic and international participants.

The economic and cultural revival of Banyuwangi has been nurtured by its charismatic Regent, Abdullah Azwar Anas.

An expert in Indonesian politics Michael Hatherell from Deakin University, Australia potrays Anas as an innovative technocrate and a unifying figure in his latest book about the transformation of political representation in Indonesia .

He engaged in local initiatives such as establishing a Jazz festival, the International Cycling event (Tour de Banyuwangi Ijen), numerous cultural festivals, and successfully encouraged positive dialogue between members of religious organisations in Banyuwangi.

Digital Boost

Banyuwangi has progressed as a multicultural entertainment hub and is looking to digital industries for its next stage of development.

It may draw confidence from the little known but important role it played in the late 19th century development of international telecommunications networks, connecting not just East Java but Darwin then Broome to the British telegraph system through undersea cable.

We travelled to Banyuwangi after receiving an invitation from the President of Shinju Matsuri festival, Chris Maher, in Broome, Western Australia, to help create an interactive screen installation to reconnect Cable Beach, Broome, with an installation in Banyuwangi for A View to Asia at the 50th Shinju Matsuri multicultural festival in August 2020.

The research project will enable the two towns to share their heritage as nodes in the first global telecommunications network, and mutually benefit from promotion to each other’s tourist audiences.

The installation would re-imagine the connections made in 1889 when an undersea telegraph cable was drawn by ship for 10 days from Banyuwangi to the beach in Yawuru country, in Western Australia.

A sign at Broome Courthouse, formerly the cable station. Courtesy of Irfan Wahyudi, Author provided

Buried on Cable Beach, the cable was laid to a telegraph station (Broome’s current Court House) to carry the first direct international electronic communications to Western Australia.

The local government welcomed our project as it aligns with Banyuwangi’s multicultural festivals.

They also saw its potential to synergise with the plan to restore and redevelop the vast Asrama Inggrisan British complex, containing the old telegraph station.

Restoring this complex is the next big heritage project being driven by the Banyuwangi Government, and will be led by an Indonesian award-winning architect, Yori Antar.

The Regent’s enthusiasm for our project was unexpected because Indonesia, like Australia, seems to be growing increasingly wary of international research projects.

Yet, this unusual confidence to engage with different communities and research institutions may help to explain Banyuwangi’s economic success.

Welcoming the contribution that our research project could make to the restoration of Asrama Ingrissan and broader engagement with Banyuwangi may open new opportunities for growth in tourism and digital industries.

Aiming for foreign tourists

Attracting international tourists is important because foreign tourists spend more than domestic tourists in Banyuwangi.

In 2018, foreign tourists spent Rp 3.7 million per visit compared to Rp 1.6 million spent by local tourists.

However, only 127,420 foreign tourists visited Banyuwangi in 2018, a fraction of Bali’s 6 million foreign tourists.

Finding new reasons for international tourists to travel to Java is important because the island contribute’s 59% of Indonesia’s economy. Yet Java’s busiest international airports, Soekarno-Hatta in Jakarta and Juanda in Surabaya, registered declines in international tourist arrivals of 13.55% and 21.75% respectively in the first three quarters of 2019.

A re-imagining of Java’s heritage and place in the world is needed to stem this decline, and Banyuwangi is set to provide a solution.

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