Tue, 14 May 2002

The power of word of mouth

K. Basrie, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Alice Koh, a Singaporean that regularly flies to Jakarta for business trips, was stunned after exploring photographs of Kampung Sampireun resort.

The unique natural settings of the boutique hotel erected above a lake in the chilly Ciparay village of Desa Sukakarya, Samarang in Garut, about two hours drive from Bandung, amazed her.

"It's something really, really different from regular hotels," she said before bombarding her Indonesian partner with a bunch of questions about the three-star hotel.

Like most business travelers, Koh now sees ordinary hotels or resorts as mediocre. When it comes to a holiday, she and her family of two children prefer to find a place with something uncommon.

To Koh's eyes, the tranquil and unique natural surroundings plus the very traditional settings of Kampung Sampireun promises a refreshing break from the routine and can bring out thrilling sensations. Inside the traditional cottages dominated by bamboo, coconut trees and rattan materials, there are no TV sets. Kids can enjoy their day by feeding the hundreds of fish, languidly cruising in the lake, from a jetty near the cottage.

When Koh was told that meal orders are served by room service staff who ply the lake by sampan, Koh delightfully pledged to soon bring the family from Singapore to give the hotel a try.

But she wonders why she had never known about this hotel previously, which has carefully manicured gardens and grounds. And Koh is not alone with such a query.

When asked, Nasohi, marketing manager of Kampung Sampireun, admitted that they had scaled back promotional efforts done by the hotel.

"The budget is limited now, and we focus our promotion through our website," he said.

Despite a lack of promotion, one should definitely call in advance for a reservation since the Sundanese boutique resort, as it is called in its brochure, has become quite popular among many local holiday-makers, particularly Jakartans.

Its weekday rates range from Rp 576,000++ (for one bedroom cottages with a terrace) to 1,104,000++ (two bedrooms, living room and terrace). The price covers breakfast and West Javanese traditional snacks.

Like many hotels in this class, Kampung Sampireun is very secluded and there are a limited number of rooms. It has only 13 cottages.

According to marketing expert, Rhenald Kasali, from the University of Indonesia, exotic hotels world-wide are born not to advertise but promote their unique products in carefully detailed ways.

"The (marketing) communication is mostly carried out by word of mouth as they are designed for selected guests seeking serenity, quietness, peacefulness and privacy," he told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Famous people such as Mick Jagger, he said, prefer to spend holidays, for example, at places like the secluded Hotel Tugu in a remote area of Bali, rather than a crowded five-star hotel in Kuta.

For operators of these exotic hotels, Kasali explained, big crowds at their places would diminish the attraction, making them less valuable and less prized by their regular guests and high- profile figures, who strictly want to get away from the public and the press for a while.

"That's why most of these types of hotels stand alone in remote locations with a higher rate," he added.

Truly, many of the exotic hotels need no extra efforts for promotion since their uniqueness has managed to attract local and foreign journalists to publicize them.

In an e-mail interview with the Post, Stephane Junca of Hotel Tugu Bali said: "Our promotion is done by word of mouth and with the help of journalists. We never use discounts in our marketing efforts but continuously improve services for our guests."

Naturally rich in water, exotic islands, ultra gorgeous land and tropical weather, Indonesia actually offers many places for such unique hotels, which offer not only grand services, meals and facilities but something "different" and "unforgettable" that can add sensational excitement or serenity to guests.

There are only a handful of hotels that can be put in this category, and most are hard to find. Many are located in Bali. Some operate in Lombok, Anyer in West Java, and other parts of Java. Few others can be found elsewhere.

If one takes a trip to Sulawesi, for example, they would be stunned by the Wakatobi Dive Resort. The secluded, intimate resort offers not only comfortable accommodations and hammocks, but also unlimited underwater exploration. Designed for a small number of select guests, the Swiss-managed resort was built using the traditional longhouse and bungalow designs by local craftsmen using traditional hand tools.

In Citarik, another remote place in West Java, the organizer of a white-water rafting company also offers huts with native architectural styles, largely crafted using local materials, such as coconut leaves, rattan and bamboo, and meant for romantics, naturalists, culturalists and hedonists alike.

In the Seribu Islands off of Jakarta, Pulau Ayer Resort & Cottages with its 33 intimate floating cottages sprawling out to sea offers inspiring moments for holiday-makers. Built three meters from the crystal-clear sea, the cottages still have showers, a 29-inch TV set with satellite channels, air conditioning, a safe, a telephone line and a balcony facing the ocean.

All in all, it seems that the exotic hotels rely on the experience of their guests for marketing and promotion. "It works," said Kasali.

And a regular traveler who has been in PR tourism for years, Catharina Widyasrini, shared Kasali's view. "That's absolutely true."

The lack of information provided by such hotels, Catharina went on, is mainly because the places are not designed for locals who prefer to pick hotels close to a shopping area rather than those open to the sky, stars, rain and jangkrik (crickets).