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Riots boost trade for jakarta's hotel havens

01 January 2000
Riots boost trade for jakarta's hotel havens

Civil war is not the way that most hotels would choose to increase occupancy, but Jakarta's riots gave a bitter-sweet boost to the sluggish trade in the Indonesian capital's hotels.

The big international hotels, clustered in the central business district away from the main areas of trouble in the north and west, were seen as safe havens by the hordes of people waiting for a flight out, and by gun-shy locals who felt unsafe in their own homes and workplaces. The ethnic Chinese population - the target of many attacks - felt especially vulnerable.

Brian Pirrie, Scottish general manager at Le Méridien Jakarta, says the country's economic crisis has caused occupancy levels in the city's 50-plus hotels to plummet to 30-40% over the past three to four months, against 70-75% a year before.

Sadly, it took violence to push occupancy back up to 70%-100% in the run-up to the student protests last Wednesday, which many feared would lead to a Tiananmen Square-style massacre. The guest lists were doubtless increased because hotels like the Regent enjoyed some military protection.

Most hotels swiftly evacuated non-essential expatriate staff, leaving behind a skeleton crew of foreign senior managers. Those that remained behind were said to be coping well.

Eric Sinclair, engineering director at the Shangri-La (and, like Pirrie, a Scot), praised the determination and conscientiousness of his Indonesian staff. Some had walked several miles into work last week when their bus was stopped as soldiers and tanks sealed off the city in preparation for the student demonstrations that preceded President Suharto's resignation.

Staff were encouraged to stay in the hotels for their own safety, or when travel proved difficult. At one point employees accounted for 20% of occupied rooms in Le Méridien.

This tactic, added Roger Niemeyer, director of sales for the UK and Europe at Pan Pacific Hotels, also enabled hotels to offer 24-hour service to their anxious guests.

While no one reported any disruption to supplies of food, water or electricity, many hotels moved quickly to carry out contingency plans to ensure future supplies, and some, including the Shangri-La, stocked up their ballrooms and meeting rooms with mattresses and blankets.

Even if the political situation remains calm, the continuing economic crisis means hoteliers take a bleak view of the coming months. Jakarta is primarily a corporate and business destination, and the disturbances have already led to the cancellation of a number of planned exhibitions.

Pan Pacific has offered its corporate customers with group bookings to Jakarta the option of relocating to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, areas that have already benefited from the disruptions.

Michael Sherck, resident manager at the Regent, fears it will be at least 18 months before hotel business begins to approach the levels enjoyed nine months ago.

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