Sun, 02 Mar 2003

Business goes on despite fall in tourist arrivals

Debbie A. Lubis, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

"Now, I have a life. Even though bad traffic and a heavy workload take up most of my time and drain my energy, I can still get to my destination to make a business deal or spend a weekend with my family," grinned a friend one day.

This young executive was referring to the list of hotels in Jakarta on the computer screen in front of him. These luxurious and state-of-the-art hotels have facilities and packages that suit his needs: an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life without leaving business behind, sometimes at bargain prices.

Whether for business, pleasure or a little of both, for many domestic travelers or middle-class people in the capital, staying at a star-rated hotel is no longer "exceptional", especially since most hotels are offering discounts to cope with the downturn in foreign tourist arrivals.

The hotels' strategy to focus on domestic guests has proved successful, as can be seen from their ability to maintain occupancy rates of between 60 percent and 70 percent, even though many foreign travelers are bypassing Indonesia due to security concerns.

Indeed, the Bali bombings in October last year raised concerns about growing terrorist activities in the country. But the actual situation is not as bad as many think. Many hoteliers say that they are already feeling the pinch due to the prospect of a U.S.-led attack on Iraq, and the impact of the threat is more damaging to business than the Bali bombings.

"We're gradually seeing an increase in occupancy rates, but it would be unrealistic to expect to reach precrisis figures," Anita H. Ilcken, public relations manager of Le Meridien Hotel said.

Security has become a major concern of hotels in Jakarta, which is apparent in the security checkpoints at many hotels including at entrances, lobbies and parking lot entrances. "We were affected by the Bali bombings only for the first two weeks, after that business returned to normal. Consumer confidence is the most important thing. There is no problem if we can guarantee their security," Mellani Solagratia, public relations manager of JW Marriott Hotel, said.

Hotels are also offering attractive packages to lure more customers in response to tight business competition. "The tight competition is getting fiercer amid the opening of several new hotels and the refurbishment of several others," Els Ramadhinta, public relations manager of Sari Pan Pacific, said.

Nowadays, hotels need to be more creative if they want to stay afloat. Sari Pan Pacific has, for example, created several special packages for its guests, like its New Year's package, Valentine's package, business and family packages. It also cooperates with Cengkareng golf course to offer a Golf package.

"Competition is very tough because five-star hotels have started a price war. They negotiate prices with travel agents. We also have to be more sensitive to market developments when setting our prices," Eddy Herdiawan, Sari Pan Pacific's sales manager, said.

Eddy said that the hotel planned to set its rate for a standard room at Rp 444,000 or about US$50 (excluding tax and service) per night, deluxe room at Rp 555,000 and Pacific Floor at Rp 777,000. "We charge in rupiah in case an attack on Iraq becomes reality. It will have a larger impact on us than the Bali bombings," he said.

The hotel also offers Pan Pacific Business and Leisure Packages at $90 each that applies to both single and double occupancy. Guests can upgrade to the Pacific Floor if they pay $15 extra or to a Suite for another $85.

Meanwhile, to maintain its high occupancy rate, JW Marriott has a frequent guest program called Marriott Rewards Program. It offers special awards such as free nights and free flights on major airlines like Cathay Pacific, KLM, British Airways and many domestic U.S.-based airlines.

"Up until February 23, we have had a 60 percent occupancy rate, with room rates of between $95 and $98. We hope we can maintain the occupancy rate with room rates up to $100," Mellani said.

Tight business competition, however, did not stop Le Meridien from launching Le Royal Club in January, a club especially designed for executive travelers. Starting from March 1 through May 31, members can enjoy the Le Royal Package that includes a deluxe room at $120 per night, junior suite at $135 and executive suite at $150, located on the 16th to the 19th floor of the building. Each Royal Club room and suite is equipped with state- of-the-art lighting, flat screen TV, working chair and desk, high speed Internet access and two independent phone lines.

The special package includes access to the spacious and exclusive Le Royal Club Lounge, which is located on the 20th floor with stunning views over the heart of Jakarta. Le Royal Club Lounge offers VIP check-in and check-out services, inclusive of concierge facilities, meeting and boardroom facilities, a business library, full business center facilities, lounge and relaxation areas, as well as excellent food and beverage service and personal butler service.

"A guest can enjoy a complimentary breakfast, evening cocktails, free local outgoing phone calls and local facsimiles, plug and play broadband and Internet access of 256 Kbps, and may also bring along one invited guest per room per cocktail hour so that it will boost his business performance and deals," Anita said.

The hotel also offers the "weekend le break" program for Indonesians, offering Superior Room at $80 per night for single and $90 for double and Deluxe Room at $95 for single or $105 for double if check-in is on Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

The program, which is valid until Dec. 30 this year, also includes buffet breakfast, late check-out until 4 p.m., complimentary entrance to Le Spa, the fitness center and the swimming Pool.

"We have not been affected much by the Bali bombings, but we are suffering because of the probable U.S.-led attack on Iraq as well as from fear of further bomb attacks in Indonesia. Our countermeasure is to increase security in the hotel," Anita said. The hotel's customers are mostly from European countries, America and Australia.