Thailand welcomed over 29 million foreign visitors in 2015 while Indonesia only had 10.41 million. Almost 3 times less. 

This is quite an abnormal situation considering Indonesia is a much larger country with better beaches, better surfing, better diving and better hiking. The cultural and natural diversity of Indonesia is unmatched in Southeast Asia. There are 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Indonesia and only 5 in Thailand. If only Indonesian cuisine was more famous, it could compete with Thai food (similar Malaysian food was named 6th Best in the World by CNN). Indonesians are just as nice as Thai people, and they speak English better. 

Despite this potential, why are there so few foreigners visiting Indonesia compared to Thailand? 

1) Bad Location and Less Flights
As with any businesses, location is always the main factor to explain success or failure. Thailand is closer from China, from the rest of Asia and from Europe. Unsurprisingly, it receives more visitors from all the countries in those areas.

For a European, a Chinese, an Indian, a Japanese or a Russian, it is always shorter, cheaper and easier to go to Thailand.

Logically, the only two nations that send more tourists to Indonesia are Singapore and Australia, both its direct neighbors. Unfortunately they are dwarf countries with a combined population of less than 30 million people.

Being wider, Indonesia is more difficult to visit. You often need to take an additional internal flight, making a trip even more long and costly. For instance, the famous diving site of Raja Ampat in Papua is 4 hours and 300$ away from Jakarta.

The impact of China alone is crucial. In 2015, Thailand received over 7,9 million Chinese visitors, 27,5% of all their tourists. In the meantime, Indonesia had only about a million.

The number of direct flights from China to Thailand is impressive. There are over 30 cities in China with direct flights, arriving to 8 Thai destinations (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Chiang Rai, Pattaya, Koh Samui, Krabi, Surat Thani). Direct flights from China to Indonesia are much more rare: Only Jakarta, Bali and Manado have some, from only 10 Chinese cities.

The prices from China to Thailand are much lower as well, not only because it is shorter, but also because there are a few low-cost airlines operating on these routes (Thai Smile, Air Asia, Spring Airlines).

A Chinese can get a return ticket to Thailand for less than 100$, but he'll need to pay at least $400 if he wants to travel to Indonesia.

2) Poor Infrastructure
Flights and location cannot explain everything. Americans are just as far from Thailand as they are from Indonesia: Both destinations require a 24-hour flight that costs about 500$ one way. Yet, in 2014, Indonesia was visited by 251,000 Americans and Thailand by 763,000.

Reading the 2015 Global Tourism and Travel Report, the major difference between the two countries resides in the "Tourist Service Infrastructure" (number of hotel rooms, car rental companies, ATMs, etc). On this criteria, Thailand ranks 21st globally and Indonesia 101st.

With a GDP Per Capita about 30% lower than Thailand, Indonesia is also a few years behind Thailand in terms of economic development. Jakarta is still waiting for its first mass transportation system whereas Bangkok has had one since 1999. Bangkok has cheap and world-class hospitals while in Bali any serious accident requires medical evacuation. Modern highways connect Thai cities, while in Java, it takes an hour to drive 30 kilometers.

The fact is, it is more comfortable and easier to travel within Thailand compared with Indonesia. If you've been to both, you probably know what I mean.

3) Mismanagement
As I see it, the Indonesian government just does not care about its citizens or visitors: It does not care to repair the road or to clean the streets, it does not care to create parks or proper sidewalks, it does not care to improve education or hospitals. It only seems to care about making money by awarding contracts and privileges.

The result is chaotic: Roads in Indonesia are clogged with traffic, even in small towns. You cannot walk safely and public transport is dreadful. Wherever you go, you see huge piles of trash, even in remote rural location.

It is not a money issue: In Senopati, one of the richest neighborhoods in Jakarta, sidewalks are broken as well and streets are dirty. The local government in South Bali is really wealthy, yet they need the help of Coca-Cola to clean the beaches. Tackling issues is just not their main priority.

Some backpackers may find Indonesia more adventurous and fun to visit, but for most people, a holiday should be simple, relaxing and safe. Thailand wins hands-down on these three points.

4) Negative Perception
According to a 2015 survey, 43% of Australians had a positive image of Indonesia and 59% a positive image of Thailand. Their main concern was a perceived lack of stability, safety and cleanliness.

In international news, Indonesia rarely makes headlines unless there is an earthquake, a tsunami, a volcano erupting, a terrorist attack, a giant forest fire, or a foreigner being executed. You'll also hear about Indonesia in the bizarre news section: The Man Tree, The Sex Doll Fallen From Heaven, the 2-Year Old Smoking child, the World's Fattest Kid, etc.

Local politicians are populists who don't care about the image they give abroad as long as they get votes at home. It is common for them to boost their popularity by stirring nationalist sentiment, even if it means bullying another country. The Vice President Yusuf Kalla's is a good example of these methods. He was the one who initiated the campaign to pay back the tsunami relief aid before the Bali 9 execution. He was the one who declared that Singapore should be thankful for 11 months of clean air, in the middle of the haze crisis. This gave such a disastrous image that some Indonesians wondered whether public officials should hire a PR agency.

Any effort to push forward sharia law will also get a fair amount of publicity: The proposed ban on alcohol, the threat to the LGBT community, the virginity tests, the criminalization of casual sex, the canning in Aceh or even the debates over whether it is allowed to wish "Merry Christmas" gave the impression that Indonesia is a borderline extremist country, which it is not.

In fact, when I say that I live in Jakarta, the first question people ask me is often: "Is it Muslim there?". I think the fact that Indonesia is a majority-Muslim country turns off some potential visitors who are afraid there will be too many restrictions. It is not surprising that the most popular destination in Indonesia is a majority-Hindu island.

Finally, I remember talking to a Malaysian friend a few years ago who told me that for many Chinese, Indonesia was not considered a safe country following the 1998 riots in which hundreds lost their lives. The recent beating of a young Indonesian Chinese will certainly not improve the situation.

5) Protectionism
Like most country on earth, Indonesia and Thailand are both suspicious of foreigners. Thailand seems more pragmatic though, and its laws are more relaxed when it comes to visa requirements, imports, ease of doing business, and property rights.

Even though things I've changed in Thailand in the past few years, it is still less of a hassle for a foreigner to work, to retire, or to start a business there. As expats open cafés, restaurants, hotels, travel agencies or attractions, they also contribute to the development of tourism.

Last year, a crew of foreign photographers and models were arrested and deported for doing a photoshoot in Bali. Even though they didn't have working permit, they were actually promoting the island through their pictures so I'm wondering about the logic of spending 3 days to chase them. The crew probably regretted they didn't go to Thailand instead.

6) Higher Prices
According to official figures, Indonesia is supposed to be cheaper than Thailand but I find this statement to be far from the truth. In reality, I know Indonesians who fly to Bangkok just to do some shopping or to get medical treatment.

The quality of services and products you buy in Thailand is often superior, for instance for Western food, health, clothes, electronics, hotels, fruits and vegetables, alcohol and transportation. The main reasons for this, I believe, are the lack of competition and the import restrictions mentioned above.

The high price of alcohol is a deal-breaker for many tourists. A glass of the most basic wine can easily cost 15$ ; a can of beer 4$ ; a cocktail in a regular nightclub 10$. I know several people who prefer Thailand only because of this (yes my friends are drunkards).

High import taxes on gourmet food also hinder the development of tourism. Few visitors want to eat Indonesian-style during their whole trip: They want cheese, bread, steaks, deli, a variety of fruits, etc. All of these are more expensive in Indonesia than in Thailand.

7) Less Sex Tourism
Even though Indonesia has a naughty nightlife (read Sex Tourism in Bali), it is nothing compared to Thailand. In Jakarta, there are only 6-7 prostitute bars catering to foreigners (double that number if I include Little Tokyo). In Bangkok, there are probably several hundreds and just as many in Pattaya and Patong.

I don't have official data about the number of sex tourists traveling to Thailand every year, but I'm sure that it accounts for a significative portion of visitors.

4 comments to '' 7 Reasons Thailand Attracts More Tourists Than Indonesia "

  1. Brilliant revue, as usual.
    I would have added one reason, the food !

    1. Hi thanks for the comment... yes food is part of what makes Thailand a successful tourist destination (and also the fact that you can eat more diverse and cheaper international food there). Indonesian food is quite delicious too though in my opinion!

  2. I could not agree more with this article. I hope that this article can be read by the government of Indonesia and it could help to raise awareness to Indonesian people as well. It would be a good idea if you write the article in Bahasa and publish is digitally. Keep the good work :)