Tourism at Indonesia’s Lake Toba to surge following launch of international services from AirAsia and Malindo

Indonesia’s Silangit Airport has secured its first two scheduled international services as part of an initiative to promote tourism at nearby Lake Toba.


Highlights:

  • Malindo Air will become the first airline to operate scheduled international services at Indonesia’s Silangit Airport on 17-Aug-2018 as it launches four weekly flights from Kuala Lumpur Subang;
  • AirAsia also plans to operate four weekly flights to Silangit, with service from Kuala Lumpur International Airport starting 28-Oct-2018;
  • Silangit is the gateway for Lake Toba, one of the Indonesia’s most popular tourist destinations that traditionally has struggled to attract international visitors due to access issues;
  • The Silangit Airport completed a terminal and runway expansion project in 2017, enabling it to secure international designation, and is planning further expansion.

Malindo Air is launching four weekly ATR 72-600 flights to Silangit from Kuala Lumpur’s Subang Airport (also known as Kuala Lumpur Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport) on 17-Aug-2018. AirAsia also recently announced plans to launch four weekly A320 flights to Silangit from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on 28-Oct-2018.

Indonesian authorities designated Silangit an international airport last year at a ceremony attended by Indonesian president Joko Widodo. However, the airport has so far only received limited international charter flights. Garuda Indonesia operated the first international flights to Silangit in 4Q2017, as part of a wider charter programme which included 10 return services from Singapore.

International services at Silangit were made possible by the opening of an expanded terminal with capacity for 500,000 passengers per annum and the completion of a runway extension. The airport is now working on a further runway extension, from 2650m to 3000m, as well as additional expansion of the terminal and apron. With the current runway some airlines now have payload restrictions on departures.

The recent investments at Silangit Airport are part of an Indonesian government initiative to promote Lake Toba as a major international tourist destination. Lake Toba has been a popular holiday destination for domestic tourists for years but access issues and infrastructure constraints have made it difficult to attract international visitors. The area is also one of the world’s largest volcanic lakes and thereby one of Indonesia’s biggest attractions, exhibiting huge tourism potential.

Lake Toba has traditionally been accessed by driving five to six hours from Medan, which has one of Indonesia’s largest and most modern airports. Silangit offers a much more convenient option as it is a short drive to Lake Toba and the resorts on Samosir Island, which is located within the lake.

Lake Toba currently attracts about 250,000 foreign visitors per annum, with most tourists staying on Samosir. Tourism authorities aim to boost annual foreign visitor numbers to 1 million within the next few years.

Silangit Airport expects to reach 500,000 annual passengers next year. In 2017 the airport handled 279,000 passengers, including more than 277,000 domestic and only 1300 international passengers.

In 2015, Silangit Airport had very limited service and handled less than 20,000 passengers. Traffic started to surge in 2016 as Garuda Indonesia and Sriwijaya Air launched services from Jakarta and Lion Group subsidiary Wings Air began serving Silangit from Medan. In 2017 traffic nearly doubled, as Lion Group full service subsidiary Batik and Garuda LCC subsidiary Citilink began competing on the Jakarta-Silangit route.

Silangit Airport annual passenger traffic: 2014 to 2017 


Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and Indonesia DGCA

The Lion Group will soon have three routes from Silangit – Jakarta, Medan and Kuala Lumpur – as Malindo Air is part of the Lion Group. The Lion Group is already the market leader at Silangit and will account for about 40% of seat capacity following the Malindo launch. Lion is now considering other potential domestic and international routes at Silangit and is keen to benefit from surging tourism demand for Lake Toba.

The new AirAsia route from KLIA represents the first AirAsia service at Silangit/Lake Toba. However, the AirAsia Group is looking at developing Silangit into a small hub with several routes. Silangit-Jakarta would be a sensible addition for Indonesia AirAsia. Indonesia AirAsia is also reportedly looking at connecting Silangit with India, a fast growing source market for Lake Toba’s tourism industry (and for Indonesia generally).

In announcing the new Silangit-Kuala Lumpur service on 03-Aug-2018, AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes stated the new route is part of the group’s “commitment to support the government of Indonesia in developing the 10 priority tourism destinations, including Lake Toba”. He added that AirAsia has “always wanted to bring people from all over the world to Lake Toba through our hub in Kuala Lumpur, and we laud the Indonesian government for building the appropriate infrastructure to boost tourist arrivals.”

CAPA published an analysis report on the growth opportunities for the Silangit/Lake Toba market on 27-Jul-2018, a week before AirAsia and Malindo announced commitments to serve Silangit Airport. “Silangit has the potential of becoming one of the largest international airports in Indonesia, given the popularity of Lake Toba,” CAPA stated. “However, it will take time to develop the necessary infrastructure – both at Silangit Airport and throughout the Lake Toba region… The growth will be gradual and not sudden, but is inevitable as long as the government continues to promote Lake Toba as an international destination”.

See related report: Indonesia Angkasa Pura II’s Silangit Airport & Sumatra’s tourism