Mon, 25 Dec 2000

Urban tourism explored in Bandung

By Myra Gunawan

BANDUNG (JP): When people talk about tourism, they usually think of beach resorts or mountain getaways. It is also true among scholars; only since the 1990s has urban tourism gained significant and growing attention.

Urban tourism is almost always underestimated and misunderstood. The complexities of the urban tourism phenomena have also led to it receiving less publicity.

What makes a city attractive for visitors depends on the regional, national or international functions attributed to the city, in terms of the nature of its economic, political or sociocultural profiles.

The city of Bandung is only one among other cities in Indonesia, including Jakarta, Denpasar, Makassar, Medan and Surabaya, which are involved in tourism. The large cities function as international gateways.

Bandung was founded as early as 1810 when the capital of the regency was moved south from the old town to the existing city square, the present place of residence for the mayor. The municipality was established in 1906 when Bandung was accorded the status by the Dutch government.

Bandung was developed to accommodate the Dutch planters, and many facilities were created to make the city functioning and attractive. Government offices, mosques and churches, housing of many types, shopping streets, higher education institutions, places for social and cultural activities and hotels and restaurants were established. Known as the Paris of Java, Bandung was the city the Dutch visited instead of returning on leave to their homeland; it was also popular among Indonesians, who called it "Kota Kembang" (Flower City) for the beauty of its natural surroundings and women.

Bandung is still a favorite destination today, but from different sources of visitors. Its universities are nationally renowned, and students bring in additional visitors of their relatives and friends. The city is also increasingly well-known as a site for seminars.

Business travelers also flock to the West Java capital, which is in the heart of Indonesian textile country and the hub for the telecommunications industry.

And, as with the days of Dutch colonialism, Bandung remains a favorite spot to visit because of its cool climate.

Unfortunately, there is no single source of information on visitor arrivals in the city. However, there are several indicators that can be used to gain a view of the city as far as tourism is concerned.

Bandung today has 41 classified and 121 nonclassified hotels plus 36 guesthouses with total capacity of 7,911 rooms. Assuming an average annual occupancy rate of just 40 persons and 1.5 persons per room, it would add up to about 1.7 million guestnights.

What is also interesting is the fact that more than half of the hotel room capacity was built after 1990; almost 60 percent of classified and 50 percent of nonclassified hotel rooms were built during the 1990s. Hotel chains such as the Sheraton, Horison, Chedi, Holiday Inn, Aquila and Hyatt arrived during these years. To a certain extent, the boom in new hotels led to older hotels losing part of their business.

There are no records of how many international tourists visit Bandung; hotel guest statistics do not differentiate expatriate/foreign residents from international travelers. For Indonesians, a sample survey found that less than 20 percent stayed in hotels; the rest stayed with relatives and friends, or in their weekend homes in the city.

From a sample survey of 937 respondents at various hotels, places of interest and city gateways, most of the visitors were from West Java (36 percent) and Jakarta (32 percent). Those coming from the outer islands make up less than 10 percent. More than half of the classified hotel guests come from Jakarta.

Most of the visitors to Bandung are repeaters, like the Jakarta residents who want to get away from the heat and hectic pace of life with a stay in Bandung. What is unusual is that the conventional tourism resources do not attract visitors as such. Museum are visited only by students, because they are ordered to do so, and historical places attract very few foreigners.

The survey also indicates that shopping is popular among hotel guest respondents, with 80 percent of them visiting shops. From the popular "jeans street" of Cihampelas, there has developed the factory outlets, now all the rage for visitors.

The author is the founder of the Center for Research on Tourism, Institute of Technology, Bandung.