Promoting Responsible Travel for Jakarta

It is a frightening imagination for people spending their time traveling Jakarta to walk around in the city to visit its attractions, where distances are far, pedestrian facilities barely match the standards, environmental quality horrible and insecurity prevails on the streets.

It is also not in an outsider’s quickest thought to say that the best of Jakarta lies in one of its museums or parks. What are the best things that Jakarta has to offer? The locals might know the best eateries or that small local markets selling recommended goods, but other than word of mouths, how do we get the information to be related to city? More importantly, how do we get these to appeal to foreign travelers?

Jakarta is already a city with a lot of problems at hand. Urbanization, and subsequently, overpopulation is a serious issue. Being the mother of all problems, it quickly sets pace to other growing problems affecting the environment, social life and the economy. They impact the qualities of the “attractions” we try to offer to travelers.

Take these issues and try to package Jakarta as an attractive invitation to discerning travelers. Suddenly, a huge, if not impossible, homework needs to be done.

With Badan Pusat Statistik logging in over 1.8 million travelers in 2010, growing more than 50% since 2002, it might not be as much as Bangkok or Singapore, both at close to 10 million annually according to Euromonitor International, but still a sign that number of travelers is growing. It surpassed the target in 2010 of 1.4 million. Government revenues from this sector also increased by 14% from 2009 to 2010.

Even when the numbers are growing, most international travelers seem to skip Jakarta and find something beyond in the larger Indonesian archipelago. Jakarta accounts for around 20% of total foreign travelers coming to Indonesia. However, 20% is quite a modest share. There’s still something that can be done.

Browsing through the travel guide racks in one bookstore in Jakarta, I skimmed all the titles trying to find travel resources on Jakarta. There are some popular periodicals. One book or two about nightlife and culinary highlights. Lonely Planet doesn’t even publish a guide about Jakarta anymore, or probably none of them reached here. But why?

Looking online, I found that searching “Bangkok Travel Guide” gave more than 50 million results, while “Jakarta Travel Guide” gave only around 13 million results. Of course, numbers alone don’t make up for the quality. So, I consulted some web sites. Jakarta-Tourism.go.idsounded like the best place to go for a one-stop shop for everything tourism in Jakarta, but most of the pages failed to load, and the English needs some good revisions. The best ones that I found were a WikiTravel’s page, and some Lonely Planet resources.

Why are we behind? Unfortunately, there is nothing to blame on the publishers or the content providers. The city probably sets itself to its own fatigue, or we’ve been setting up false expectations.

Are we resorting to simply branding Jakarta something like “Enjoy Jakarta!”, in a similar effort to brand Singapore, for instance? Do you think travelers enjoy Jakarta? Do we really know what Jakarta really has to offer, and in return, what kind of tourism does Jakarta need?

In my opinion, Jakarta does not need similar tourism branding that sets false expectations. Instead of setting a “stage” of mediocre attractions competing with other Asian cities, we must begin to think about our genuine assets: people, culture and history.

Travelers normally come with expectations, and we need to set them right. The best way to do this is to bring out some honesty. I am not saying that we should let poverty astray and feature this on a travel brochure, but to take that as a background information. We need to find our real strengths and make those a selling point. It’s all about setting the right expectations.

How do one learn more about people, culture and history of Jakarta? We need to put them first.

We need to promote a habit-changing effort, both inwards and outwards. The effort to promote Jakarta tourism needs to be done not only about the way we invite people in, but also about the way the inhabitants understand their own city.

Government needs to prioritize the preservation of historical sites, cultural events and invest in the people. We also need to create an environment where it is possible for travelers to go around a living ‘museum’ that Jakarta is in an enjoyable way. The real deal is out there, in the streets, not inside shopping malls and the luxury of tour buses.

In line with this, there is an increasingly growing number of supporters for responsible travel in the world. Responsible travel is a kind of tourism that puts itself inside the ethical framework, with thoughts related to the impact of tourism to the local environment, culture, business and laws.

There are many ways in which responsible travel for Jakarta can be promoted. One of these is to create a promotional media in which we guide travelers to visit places that hold historical or cultural values, help them navigate through the least-polluting possible means of transport, advise them on the best shopping places that help local businesses. Walking tour is one manifestation of this, and while at that, travelers enjoy sights, sounds and smells that would be otherwise left out when they travel inside the air-conditioned buses. Harsh as it may sound, we can make this as practical as possible, and using digital devices and the interlinked networks of the Web, this can be a fun experience too. Going digital, we will also engage the younger audiences, educating and preparing them to be life-long responsible travelers.

Responsible travel is definitely not the only answer, but it helps complement the other side of the spectrum. It is a start of something good, a movement for better Jakarta initiated by the travelers.