Bapak Catur Laswanto, the relatively new head of tourism for Jakarta, turned out to be a friendly, knowledgeable and positive gentleman, says Alistair Speirs, who went to challenge him on the many difficulties facing Jakarta (since Governor Ahok has become such a hot item these days that he is very hard to meet). His sensible answers, while almost certainly over optimistic, went a long way to clarifying what the Jakarta Government’s plans are in vital areas. His last post running the Jakarta city owned companies certainly prepared him for the hard task of putting the city back on the international tourist agenda.
Jakarta is pretty much off the tourist trail now, with most real tourists avoiding the traffic and going straight to Jogja, Bali and Lombok. Jakarta’s visitors are almost all business or family visits. What is being done to put that right? Is the “Enjoy Jakarta” brand still viable?
As the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta is the centre of the country’s economic, business, government, and cultural activities. Jakarta is also a home to many national and multinational corporations, NGOs, and embassies, so it’s no wonder that the city is known as the Capital of ASEAN. Yes, most visitors come to this city for business, but it doesn’t mean they cannot enjoy the city as we have lots of tourist attractions to offer, for instance we have 20 lush green golf courses with competitive pricing, a lively nightlife scene, as well as rich culinary options from around the world. Just like Singapore or Hong Kong, Jakarta is also known as a shopping paradise where visitors can find countless branded items from our luxury malls. With these attractions, I can confidently say that the “Enjoy Jakarta” tag-line is still relevant; there is so much to explore here in Jakarta.
Are the Thousand Islands still a major attraction? Has the reclamation affected them?
Thousand Islands is still popular amongst Jakartans as a weekend getaway destination. I don’t think the reclamation plan will affect them. As long as it following the right environmental management scheme, I believe Jakarta land reclamation is a good step that will benefit us greatly in the future.
What has been happening in terms of cultural attractions in the city? Have the museums been upgraded and made more interesting for Jakartans and visitors?
We are currently in the process of improving all the museums as the governor is very concerned about heritage conservation. We believe that the presence of museums is very important as they store the cultural and historical wealth of the nation as well as being a valuable source of creativity and inspiration for young people. In order to increase people’s interest in visiting museums, we have prepared a huge budget to make necessary improvements, including rewriting the historical explanations, redesigning the exhibit rooms to be more modern and attractive, as well as creating a complete and beautiful gift shop as we believe that purchasing something from the museum shop can enhance a visit. For the gift shops, we will be cooperating with Dewan Kesenian Nasional Daerah (the Regional National Arts Council) to create unique and distinctive souvenirs for visitors to take home as mementos of their visit. We also have a series of programmes to increase young people’s interest in visiting museums, one of which is enforcing compulsory museum visits for elementary school students.
There has been so much talk about Kota Tua (the old town). How is this plan developing? The revitalisation of Kota Tua is one of our biggest projects now. The city authorities just came up with a brand-new and ambitious plan; we have budgeted approximately IDR 280 billion to revive the Kota Tua area which spans about 334 hectares across parts of West and North Jakarta. For starters, we will beautify Fatahillah Museum and its surrounding areas by cleaning the river nearby with cutting-edge technology as we want to make sure that the river is really clean, so clean in fact that fish will be swimming in it! We’ll also expand the sidewalk and put many park benches along the way. Furthermore, we’ll build proper toilets equipped with air conditioning in public areas to cater to all visitors’ needs. The revitalisation plan also includes the restoration of Sunda Kelapa, which is located at the mouth of the Ciliwung River. Sunda Kelapa, better known as Pasar Ikan (fish market) is a very significant area in Jakarta’s colonial history as this is where the Dutch initially landed. Unfortunately, the situation at the fish market has been quite alarming over the past years, especially because the Ciliwung river was inhabited illegally by hundreds of families. To address this problem, the Governor is relocating them to more appropriate public housing. This way, the river can be restored and people who used to live there can have more decent living in their new homes.
The MRT and other major infrastructure developments are now under way. Are you confident they will solve the city’s very bad traffic problems? Some experts say the current plans are too limited to make much of a difference.
Yes, these projects are expected to be finished in 2017. To be honest, I’m not sure if the MRT will solve the traffic congestion completely, but at least the public will have new transportation options to ease their daily commutes. Right now, we are focusing on four major transportation developments in Jakarta: LRT (Light Rail Transit) which is 115 kilometres long with seven corridors; MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) which is almost halfway done; PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) or regular buses as we know them. We will cooperate with the best bus manufacturers and we will use one integrated ticketing system for the PRT, MRT and LRT systems so it will be very convenient for people to get around Jakarta. Finally, we have several Jakarta highway projects that are under construction at the moment.
What other initiatives have been proposed by city authorities to increase visitors? Are there more cultural, art, dance, theatre, or musical events on offer and supported by the city?
We strongly support any art and cultural festivals to be held in Jakarta as we want Jakarta to become the “City of Festivals”. For example, we granted tax exemption of up to 50 percent for this year’s Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival. It was the biggest tax exemption that the government can give which helped the organisers a lot. The other festival that we are supporting is the Jakarta Great Sale. Every year, the event attracts thousands of visitors to Jakarta to get the best quality products at very affordable prices. There have been significant steps from Jakarta’s tourism board to create a more approachable and friendly city for tourists and visitors. We’re planning to transform the Sudirman-Thamrin area into the capital’s pedestrian zones by extending the sidewalks, removing the building line restrictions, as well as placing more benches on the sidewalk, making it look neater and more inviting. Initiated by the Governor, we will also collaborate with numerous companies to create well-designed free tour buses so that tourists can go sight-seeing conveniently.
Finally, how do you think the development of the new airport can boost visitors and what do you think about the quality of hotels in Jakarta? Are they up to international standards?
The construction of the new airport is a huge step for us, hopefully the improvements mean that the airport can accommodate more flights, hence increasing the number of travellers to Jakarta. The government is also planning to build a direct rail connection to the airport to ease the mobility of travellers. In terms of hotels, I couldn’t be happier with the quality of hotels here. Jakarta’s five star hotels are arguably the best in the world with sophisticated facilities and very accommodating services.