Citilink’s New Daily Aceh Route Sparks Hope for ‘Halal Tourism’

Citilink Inauguration at Iskandar Muda International Airport | M.Anshar/
Citilink Inauguration at Iskandar Muda International Airport | M.Anshar/

Jakarta. Citilink Indonesia, the budget airline unit of flag carrier Garuda Indonesia, has started to fly to Aceh daily, with local tourism officials hoping the connection will boost travel to the country’s easternmost province.

The new Citilink route, which connects the provincial capital Banda Aceh with Jakarta through Medan’s Kualanamu International Airport, was opened on Thursday, Aceh tourism department head Reza Pahlevi said in a statement on Saturday (05/03).

The flight would help the province “attract 10,000 foreign tourists and 100,000 [domestic] tourists a year,” he said.

Tourism Minister Arief Yahya has designated Aceh as one of Indonesia’s “halal destinations” — as it offers plenty of amenities and attractions for observant Muslims. One of the country’s goals is to attract more visitors from the Middle East.

Aceh is the only province in Indonesia that is allowed to implement strict Islamic law, including public caning of adulterers and homosexuals. Authorities in the province also regularly crack down on women wearing tight clothing and recently banned New Year’s celebrations.

Lombok, an island in West Nusa Tenggara province just east of Bali, was designated the best halal honeymoon destination at the World Travel Awards 2015 event in the United Arab Emirates last October.

Indonesia also won in the best halal tourism destination category, ahead of Malaysia and Turkey.

The total number of tourists visiting Indonesia from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE combined was 180,000 last year — or just a sixth of the 1.1 million Chinese tourists, data from the Tourism Ministry shows.

Most international visitors to Indonesia come through Jakarta.

Arief welcomed Citilink’s new daily route to Aceh, saying it would improve access and may help boost interest in traveling to the province.

The Aceh route is one of three new ones Citilink has opened in the first three months of this year. The others are between Medan and Pekanbaru and between Pekanbaru and Bandung, the airline’s president director Albert Burhan said.

“Aceh is located in a strategic and important spot. Its large number of maritime tourist attractions and peculiar history as the Veranda of Mecca provide enough reasons for Citilink to come here,” Albert said, referring to the region’s past as an important trade port that Muslim merchants used as a foothold to spread Islam in the archipelago.

Citilink is hoping that with the new routes in Java and Sumatra it can achieve its target of 12.6 million passengers this year, up 30 percent from 9.7 million passengers in 2015. The airline is also expecting ten jets to be delivered this year, to beef up its current fleet of 34 aircraft.