• Transform magazine
  • October 22, 2020


Nation branding: Indonesia


Jakarta, rife with traffic and infrastructure problems, is not for the faint of heart says Samantha North, despite the appealing tourism destination on offer in the Indonesian capital

What kind of city wishes to be synonymous with appalling traffic jams? Probably not very many, but in Jakarta’s case, that’s exactly what’s happening. The teeming Indonesian capital, home to 10m people, recently gained the dubious honour of being voted the ‘world’s most congested city,’ in a survey conducted earlier this year by Castrol.

The streets of Jakarta are not for the faint of heart. Under the heavy tropical heat, thousands of people battle the ever-increasing traffic. They dodge the ubiquitous motorbike taxis (known as ‘ojeks’) if on foot, or risk their lives riding the precarious ojeks to shave a few minutes off their daily commute. Many Jakartans spend three or four hours every day travelling to their workplaces.

For the casual visitor, hopping between the city’s tourist attractions, the traffic situation is bad news. Not much can be done quickly in Jakarta. Even reaching the airport from downtown requires a travel time of at least four hours, just to be sure of catching the flight. Public transport in Jakarta is limited, although the city is currently in the process of building new facilities, including a bus system that travels alongside regular traffic in its own dedicated lanes.

Congestion is not Jakarta’s only concern. During monsoon season, the city suffers from regular floods which shut down large areas, damage infrastructure and exacerbate existing traffic flow problems. Waste disposal is Jakarta’s third big problem. The city groans under the strain of dealing with the waste produced by millions.

“Jakarta is a special city. It needs a special way of thinking to solve its myriad problems,” said Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, Jakarta governor, at the New Cities Summit, held in the Indonesian capital this June.

Jakarta is a special city. It needs a special way of thinking to solve its myriad problems

At this event, local innovators presented their ideas to solve Jakarta’s problems. Notables included Go-Jek, a service similar to Uber, but for ojeks. It uses a mobile app to connect Jakarta’s many thousands of ojek drivers with passengers around the city. Another innovation, Peta Jakarta, leverages user-generated data to map floods around the city, allowing people to avoid affected areas.

How do these issues affect the city’s efforts to develop its brand identity? Jakarta is already running a promotional campaign, ‘Enjoy Jakarta,’ which the city launched in 2005. But Alistair Speirs, a Jakarta-based brand consultant who worked on the campaign, told the Jakarta Globe in 2012 that Jakarta had, “Failed to deliver the values promised.” Speirs said that the city’s problems had “overshadowed” the campaign’s message. Unfortunately, it seems he’s right. How can people enjoy spas, golf, shopping, nightlife or cuisine when they have to sit in traffic for hours just to get there?

Joko Widodo, the Indonesian president, has an ambitious goal for the country. By 2019, he wants to attract 20m international tourists to Indonesia. Currently, tourism numbers stand at over 9m. Jakarta, as the capital and main travel hub, is a major part of the plan. Achieving a positive reputation for Jakarta will draw more tourists to the capital, even if they just stop for a few days en route to other destinations such as Bali or Lombok.

To help reach this goal, Jakarta needs to shift its existing reputation as a ‘challenging’ city. It has much to offer, but if visitors can’t access the attractions easily, they will be discouraged from the get-go.

Necessity breeds innovation. As Jakarta’s local entrepreneurs have shown, troubled cities can provide fertile environments to search for ideas and test potential solutions. It is here that Jakarta can gain insights to help boost the government’s efforts to address pressing urban problems. Once the solutions are in place, only then will the branding and reputation building efforts start to gain a firmer foothold.


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