BT: Indonesia’s capital is growing at great pace. Why did Four Seasons choose this location for its new hotel?
Christian Poda: Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta is located in South Jakarta’s commercial, entertainment and financial district, in a 20-storey tower situated within the award-winning Capital Place development. If you look out the windows from our vantage point in Capital Place, you’ll lose count of all the towers soon to be completed or scheduled to be finished in the next year or two. These are mostly office tower blocks so this really is the heart of business in Jakarta.
BT: Competition is fierce in the luxury hotel sector throughout Asia’s major cities. You’ve chosen to be part of an integrated complex, which is becoming more common in Asia. How important is it these days to be part of or close to a mixed-use development?
CP: Our competition includes the Ritz-Carlton, Raffles, Fairmont, Keraton at the Plaza, the Grand Hyatt and there’s also a Regent and Rosewood under development. Four Seasons has experience with mixed-use complexes, which are trending in the business world for a few good reasons. It is beneficial for the developer to have a residential component as it helps with cash flow and if you also have an office component, then it’s a win-win situation – the office executives get access to an infrastructure that includes restaurants, laundry services and transport, whilst the hotel has a built-in client base right there. We are also extending the Four Seasons Concierge service into the Capital Place office tower, which I think is unique in Southeast Asia.
BT: Four Seasons has been present in Jakarta for more than 20 years, but it has moved to a new-build in a different part of town. Why is that?
CP: We closed the previous location a little over a year ago for an extensive renovation. That was the original plan, but the owners of the building, Rajawali Group, are also the owners of the new Capital Place mixed development and an amazing opportunity arose to manage the hotel element of the development. The renovations of the old site were slated to take 2–3 years so the opportunity to instead relaunch in the most cutting-edge and impressive new building in the heart of Jakarta was fantastic timing.
[The old Four Seasons hotel in Jakarta will be renovated as planned but will reopen as a different brand.]
BT: Why did Four Seasons opt for a smaller sized, all-suite hotel for the Jakarta property?
CP: Whilst it’s true that we have just 125 keys and are an all-suite hotel, the smallest suite is a generous 62 sqm. I prefer not to use the term “boutique” as we are more an “intimate” or “residential” property presented in a very traditional, classic European, “Grand Hotel” design style. The design is incredible with gold leaf ceilings and gorgeous chandeliers, and we have the most chic pool in Jakarta, which is the envy of other luxury hotels. But to answer your question, in the development stage we saw the opportunity to do something very different for Jakarta; to capitalise upon a niche market as many of the old hotels were enormous, following the trend back in the 1970s/80s.
Indonesia has a very social, communal culture. People here love to dress up, to socialise – you could call it “social theatre” – and we are supplying the stage. We have several amazing social spaces, from the opulent Grand Lobby to the Nautilus bar, which is very masculine and dramatic, like a century-old London club; or the Patisserie, which is a gorgeous, decidedly feminine space. But there are less conspicuous corners too, in the library and bar, where guests can discreetly meet or quietly relax.
Alexandra Champalimaud was our interior designer, with an impeccable pedigree in Grand Hotel design – The Waldorf Astoria New York and London’s Dorchester, among others. The brief was to bring sumptuous glamour to the city and the exquisite result is largely French inspired, with homage paid to the history of Jakarta and its colonial beginnings through amazingly diverse artwork and detailing.
The hotel really resonates with people who enjoy the concept of holidaying in the Grand Hotels of the romantic European cities such as Paris, London and Rome, which I think is new to Jakarta.
BT: Is there enough of a market for this high-end offering? What’s the feeling on the ground in Jakarta at present, and how do you attract people to a city that historically does not have a great reputation or any obvious tourist appeal?
CP: Right now there’s an oversupply of hotel rooms so the rates are very competitive, but Indonesia’s rapid growth is reflected in Jakarta with enormous tourism/business travel potential. There is a lot of wealth in Jakarta; if you look at Indonesia’s economy, there is GDP growth, tourism is growing – we are a country whose business is driven by commodities and natural resources and the general opinion is that things are on the way up. As the middle class population increases, we are seeing increasing urban sophistication and with infrastructure improving, Jakarta is an exciting place to be right now.
Personally, I was a little nervous when I took on the job here, coming from Shanghai and Hong Kong, but Jakarta has been a huge and positive surprise for me. The city is buzzing with optimism and the people are amazing, so warm and open. I am very upbeat about Jakarta – visitors are nearly always surprised by the quality of the restaurant/bar scene and our guests so far have been completely wowed.
BT: Jakarta has been underserved by the Indonesian government in terms of attracting visitors – Bali is an easier sell – and infrastructure is the sole focus at the moment to solve some obvious issues. Do you think the authorities can make the necessary changes to help your business?
CP: With the current president and governor of Jakarta, things really seem to be heading in the right direction and there is a palpable sense that genuine progress is being made. Many businesses in the city have Chinese roots, so there’s a connection back to Hong Kong and China (places like Chiuchow in Guangdong, and Fujian province). Our first corporate accounts have been from the financial industry – boutique firms and investment banks that are financing projects here and dealing with the many high-net-worth individuals in the city – but construction in infrastructure, and natural resources, are also strong.
BT: What are the current demographics of your clientele, and what are your plans to develop your client base as the city grows?
CP: We had a soft opening on June 20 and then fully opened on July 1 this year. We have an 80-20 business-leisure split and of course we are planning to capture business from the area’s many new commercial developments. The key feeder markets for us will be Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Australia, so in terms of sales efforts that’s the main focus. However, the “staycation” is becoming increasingly popular in Jakarta with local Jakartans and people from surrounding cities taking time out in a hotel to relax, so the weekends are quite leisure-focused for us.
Once the hotel becomes established I am expecting a 50-50 business-leisure occupancy. I would like to position Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta as an access point to Java’s many beautiful tourist sites. Although it is true that Jakarta tends not to be a first-choice destination for many tourists, for the “advanced” leisure tourist, you could combine our city with Yogyakarta and other places like Borobodur or Mt Bromo.
BT: What are the key differentiators for Four Seasons Jakarta vs its competitors?
CP: Four Seasons Brand loyalty plays a part, alongside the consistently high-quality service for which the brand is renowned. Four Seasons has built a wonderful service culture – we are a Canadian company that grew up in North America, so we have that unique brand of friendliness and informality operating alongside the efficiency. The design of the hotel is incredibly opulent and beautiful and our lobby is very grand, which may initially be a bit intimidating to those not used to this level of grand luxury, so the service delivery of our 250 staff reflects an approachable and welcoming manner to put guests at ease.
I do feel that it is vitally important to adapt as people’s demands change all the time – good service meant something different to our parents than it does to us and, indeed, now does to the younger generations. It is a challenge for hoteliers to evolve service to fit the modern expectations of guests – the traveller of today may want to stay at Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta but still sample the street food at a local stall around the corner; or they could be staying in Airbnb but drinking very expensive wine and enjoying a sumptuous meal with us. These worlds coexist and are not contrary any more.