Category: Travel & Leisure

Something to celebrate

The Indonesian government has added another cultural event of its ethnic Chinese community to its official list of top attractions in a bid to lure more domestic and international tourists.

Chap Goh Mei marks the end of the Chinese New Year period, and the most lavish celebrations take place in Singkawang, a coastal town of roughly 240,000 in West Kalimantan on Borneo. About 40% of the town’s residents are of Chinese descent, but the celebration itself is a fusion of Chinese, indigenous Dayak and Malay cultures, laden with mysticism and supernatural power.

The highlight of the annual festival is the parade featuring Tatung, or people who are believed to have supernatural powers because they are possessed by the spirits of their ancestors or deities.

Dressed in the colorful garb traditional Chinese and Dayak warriors, more than 800 Tatungs from Singkawang and neighboring towns, as well as from Malaysia and Australia, thronged the town’s main streets on the last day of the celebration on Feb 8.

Spectators lining the parade route watched in awe as marchers demonstrated their supernatural abilities by having their faces and bodies pierced with sharp metal objects. Some were hoisted wooden chairs, but instead of soft upholstery, the seat, backrest, and armrest contain rows of sharp blades and arrows.

“We are proud that Chap Goh Mei in Singkawang is included again in the tourism ministry’s annual top 100 calendar of events, and has become one of the top festival destinations for tourists,” Mayor of Singkawang, Tjhai Chui Mie said prior to the parade.

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A Tatung stepped on a blade as he was hoisted on a chair with arrows of sharp blades and passed by the main podium during the annual Tatung parade in Singkawang, West Kalimantan, on Feb 8, 2020. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

The annual parade was the culmination of two weeks festivities that started on Jan 23. It has become the main attraction to spur economic growth in Singkawang, through the development in the real sector, the mayor added.

Last year’s festivities attracted 76,964 foreign and domestic tourists, an increase from about 70,000 in 2018, according to the ministry.

Sutarmidji, governor of West Kalimantan, acknowledged the festivities were the biggest tourism event in the province.

“When I was the mayor of Pontianak, I did not allow the Tatung parade to be held during the city’s Chap Goh Mei celebration so that it would remain the main attraction for Singkawang,” he said.

“Pontianak can have the longest dragon dance, but the Tatung parade should be the focus of Singkawang’s Chap Goh Mei.”

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Dressed as a Dayak warrior, a Tatung made his way to Tri Dharma Bumi Raya temple to pay respect during the road cleansing ritual on Feb 7, 2020, in Singkawang, West Kalimantan. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Dian Halidi, a tourist from Sumbawa Besar, the main city on Sumba Island in central Indonesia, said he had come to the festivities because he was curious to see the Tatung parade in person.

“I came here just by myself and this is my first time in Singkawang. It turned out the Chap Goh Mei here is really amazing and as spectacular as I have been seeing on television.”

Hotels and homestays in the city were fully booked ahead of the parade, wit room rates as much four times higher than they normally are. Some tour operators even had to book the rooms for their clients a year in advance.

However, concern about the coronavirus in recent weeks led to some people having second thoughts about traveling, although Indonesia officially has reported no cases of infection yet.

Hotel occupancy and visitor numbers slipped as a result, although Daniel, a manager of a homestay in Central Singkawang, said the rooms in his establishment were fully booked for the festivities.

“But reservations and confirmations were slow and occurred at the last minute,” he said.

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The Dragon statue, one of Singkawang’s landmarks, was adorned with red lanterns during the city’s Chap Goh Mei celebrations in the West Kalimantan town. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Hellen Chia, who comes from a family of Tatung and whose siblings are Tatungs from the Tho Fab Kiung temple took part in the parade, said that this year’s crowds of spectators were smaller compared to last year.

Dewi Virtana, a tour leader from a tour operator in Surabaya, East Java, said her company took just one group of 31 tourists to Singkawang this year, compared with three groups last year.

“I think it was mainly due to the rising prices of plane tickets, instead of the coronavirus,” she said.

But another tour operator based in Pontianak, Sentosa Tour, reported a small upturn this year. One of its tour leaders, Willy, said the company had about 200 guests this year, compared to 180 last year.

“We see the number of clients increase every year, he said. “Ninety percent of our clients are domestic, from other big cities in the country, and we also had a few foreign visitors from Japan and Australia who booked our private tours.”

In a bid to attract more tourists to the city, which is about four-hour drive from Pontianak, Mayor Thjai said the city has allocated and cleared an area of 151.45 hectares to build an airport and is seeking to develop it under a public-private partnership.

According to the transport ministry, the first phase of the airport will have a 1,400-metre runway that could accommodate ATR aircraft. A 2,600-metre runway that would allow a Boeing 737 to land could be developed in the future.

A day before the parade, the Tatung also toured the city performing a road cleansing ritual to ward off bad spirits. They also paid respects to their ancestors and deities by visiting various temples and houses of worships, or cetiya, scattered around Singkawang, which is known as the city of a thousand temples.

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Rattan dolls from the Hok Lo Nam temple believed to have been possessed by the spirits of their ancestors and deities were brought to pay respect to the sea goddess in the century-old House of Tjhia in Singkawang, West Kalimantan, on Feb 7, 2020. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

An entourage from the Hok Lo Nam temple also took part in the ritual. Carrying five dolls made of rattan and dressed in colorful Chinese costumes, the entourage visited a cetiya at a century-old mansion belonging to the Thjia clan in the city center, to pay their respect to the sea goddess to which the cetiya is dedicated.

The dolls were believed to have been possessed by the spirits of their ancestors and deities, as well as a local Malay elder identified as Datuk Suleiman.

More cities in the country with a large population of Chinese descent have been making Chap Goh Mei, or the 15th day of the Chinese new year an annual celebration. They include Jakarta, Palembang in South Sumatra, Bali, and Bogor in West Java.

Bogor celebrated in style this year, with organizers buoyed by the tourism ministry’s decision to place the festival on its official calendar of events.

The West Java provincial administration has even disbursed 30 billion rupiahs to revamp Suryakencana Street, the main street where the annual Chap Goh Mei parade is held in Bogor, 55 kilometers south of Jakarta.

“This is a show of support from the provincial administration,” West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil said.

The story was first published in Bangkok Post

Indonesia taps into Muslim tourist market with Shariah hotels

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Shariah-based Hotel Sofyan in Central Jakarta. Photo: Sofyan Hotel

With a rising awareness to promote Muslim-friendly travel, the widespread adoption of Shariah-based accommodation is not always successfully put into practice, as Octine Riyantini realized during one of her stays at a hotel that claimed to be Shariah-compliant.

Riyantini has stayed in two Shariah-based hotels in Indonesia and had a good experience with the first one, where she found that hotel staff always greeted guests with the Islamic greeting, had call of prayers blasted from a speaker and provided prayer amenities as well as a Qibla sign in each room.

“The ambiance was very much Islamic and the hotel itself was clean and well-maintained,” she said.

She had a different experience with the second one, despite the Shariah label that goes with the hotel’s name in an online hotel reservation website.

Although they provided a prayer room on each floor, Riyantini said it seemed like it was hastily prepared and a bit spooky, so she and her family chose to pray in their room. Moreover, the hotel was not properly maintained.

“Maybe they consider their hotel to be Shariah-compliant just because they provide a prayer room on each floor and a Qibla sign in the room, yet the overall ambiance hardly felt like it was Muslim-friendly,” she said.

“I learned that not all hotels that claimed to be Shariah-based are really compliant to the value. If we have to stay in such a hotel another time, we will have to consider which hotel chain it is associated with,” she said.

Muslim-friendly travel and tourism in Indonesia continues to rise, with Indonesia named as the number one destination, out of 130 countries, for halal tourism in the world by the Global Muslim Travel Index 2019.

Service providers have been quick to tap into the growing market, despite the controversy and misconceptions about halal tourism in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

According to a survey conducted by accommodation network operator Airy, 60 percent of Indonesian travelers think that it is important to have Shariah-based accommodation. The figure was consistent with data from the Alvara Research Center, which showed that 64 percent of Indonesian millennials travel and go on holiday at least once a year, providing a market of about 26 million holiday-hunting Muslim millennials.

Responding to the market demand, Airy in 2016 began offering a segment called Airy Syariah or a Shariah-based accommodation network.

“Our Airy Syariah properties offer Muslim-friendly accommodation so that guests can stay comfortably and worry-free. The market response has been good and demand for Shariah-based accommodation continues to rise every year. Our occupancy rate so far stands at 40 percent to 70 percent,” Airy vice president for marketing, Ika Paramita, said.

Paramita said Airy cooperates with more than 400 Muslim-friendly properties in some 50 cities across Indonesia and it has been growing at a triple-digit rate year-on-year.

“The food and drinks in our properties are halal-certified, and we provide Muslim-friendly amenities. Guests can immediately experience their stay in our Shariah-based properties, where hotel staff uniforms and attitudes conform to Islamic values. Moreover, we validate the marriage status when a couple is checking in,” Paramita said.

Shariah-compliant accommodation is not new in Indonesia. The Sofyan Hotel chain in Jakarta has implemented the concept in its two properties since 1992 by removing nightclubs, bars and alcoholic drinks from its facilities.

But the concept does not always appeal to all Muslims in Indonesia. University lecturer Ratna Djumala said she prefers to stay in a conventional hotel to show her children about meeting people of various backgrounds.

“I want to show my children about diversity and tolerance, especially this coming December when hotels are adorned with Christmas decorations. I want my kids to experience the ambiance, too. A family-friendly hotel doesn’t always have to be a Shariah-based one. What’s important for me is the food has to be halal,” she said.

Muslim-friendly travel was valued at $189 billion in 2018 and is estimated to reach $274 billion by 2024, according to the State of Global Islamic Economy Report 2019.

The story was first published in Arab News

Poor tourists are unwelcome in NTT, Governor Says

The governor of an Indonesian province that is home to the famed Komodo dragon said poor tourists are not welcome there, local media reported on Friday.

East Nusa Tenggara Governor Victor Laiskodat said his province was on the list of Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2020 and therefore should be a premium destination.

“Tourists who come here must be rich,” Laiskodat was quoted by the Kompas newspaper as saying Thursday. “Those who are poor may not come … we have many people like that, so we don’t want to see more of them.”

East Nusa Tenggara is one of the poorest provinces in Indonesia.

Laiskodat has proposed that people who want access to Komodo island, home to the giant lizard, should be charged a hefty entrance fee. Visitors are currently charged 150,000 rupiah (10 dollars) for access to the park.

The government this year dropped a plan to close the island for a year in 2020 as part of conservation efforts and instead decided to turn it into a premium tourism destination.

Officials said visitors who do not want to pay the entrance fee can visit nearby Rinca island, where smaller Komodo dragons live.

Komodo National Park, home to more than 5,000 Komodo dragons, is listed by National Geographic as one of the world’s top 10 destinations. It receives more than 10,000 visitors per month.

Garuda sues YouTube reviewer over handwritten menu post

 An Indonesian YouTube personality said on Tuesday he had been sued by national airline Garuda over a social media posting about a hand-written business-class menu.

Rius Vernandes, a popular vlogger, posted an Instagram photo showing the menu written on a piece of notebook paper on Saturday with the caption: “The menu is still being printed, sir.”   

The post went viral and prompted Indonesian social media users to mock the airline. 

Rius said he has received a summons from the police in connection with the post.   

“We’ve been reported for defamation. I’m sure you know I had no intention whatsoever to defame anyone,” he said on Instagram. 

“I hope you can support me because I don’t want anyone to be prosecuted for an honest review and constructive criticism,” he said. 

Garuda said the handwritten menu was made by a cabin crew member for personal use and not intended to be handed out to passengers.

Police confirmed that Garuda had filed a defamation case against Rius. 

Garuda came under more criticism on Tuesday after a circular instructing the cabin crew to prohibit passengers from taking photos or videos mid-air circulated on social media. 

The airline later clarified that the directive had been withdrawn, but said that passengers are advised to respect other people’s privacy by not taking their photos.     

“Passengers can take photos for personal use such as selfies as long as they do not inconvenience other passengers,” the company’s spokesman Ikhsan Rosan said in a statement. 

Families of ill-fated Lion Air victims still hope for miracle as DNA tests underway

Toni Priyono Adhi still keeps alive his hopes that his daughter Puspita Eka Putri will pick up her phone and answer his calls, although deep down he knows that it is very unlikely.

Putri, who celebrated her 24th birthday in Oct 26, was one of the 189 people on board the Lion Air JT610 flight from Jakarta bound for Pangkal Pinang in Bangka Island which crashed Monday morning into the sea off Karawang in West Java, about 75 kilometers from Jakarta.

“I just keep praying for a miracle. We keep trying to call her and call out her name in case she replies,” Adhi told journalists at the police hospital in East Jakarta where body parts plucked from the crash site were taken and families of the victims are submitting ante mortem data for identification.

Adhi said it was Putri’s first business trip with a beauty products company, that she joined for a month. Her mother, who identified herself as Nuke, said it was Putri’s first flight by herself.

“We always took flights together. I always picked her up in her campus when she was in college. My daughter, she was really beautiful. God had entrusted her to me,” said a visibily shaken Nuke as she held up her daugther’s picture and kissed it.

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Nuke showed the photo of her daughter, Puspita Eka Putri at the police hospital in East Jakarta where she and her husband submitted ante mortem data for Putri’s identification on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. (Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata)

Imbalo Sakti remembers her brother-in-law, Capt. Musa Effendi as a kind-hearted man whom the family members looked up to.

Sakti said that Effendi, who worked as a portmaster in Muntok port on the western part of Bangka Island, was on his way for a meeting in Pangkal Pinang.

“He had traveled from Medan, North Sumatra, where he had attended a Quran recital in his hometown to give thanks for he and his wife’s safe return from the Hajj two months ago,” Sakti said.

Since there is no direct flight from Medan to Pangkal Pinang, which are about 1,000 kilometers apart, he had to fly to Jakarta and take a connecting flight to Pangkal Pinang.

“My daddy has been posted in Bangka Island for two years. He spent the night at a transit hotel in Jakarta’s airport and took the morning flight to Pangkal Pinang,” Effendi’s daughter Dwi Ratna said.

Anugrah Satria, a frequent Lion Air flyer, said he met Alfiani Hidayatul Solikah during his flights and became friends with the 19-year-old flight attendant.

“It was her first job and it was her wish to become a flight attendant. I met her on one of her first flights as a stewardess on a flight from Jakarta to Yogyakarta,” Satria said.

“She was always nice to passengers, and smiled a lot. She never complained about her job,” Satria said.

The captain pilot of the brand new Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane, which had only 800 flying hours since its initial operation on Aug 15, was an Indian from New Delhi, Bhavye Suneja.

Media reports said he was a trainee pilot with Emirates before joining Lion Air in March 2011.

The Indian Embassy in Jakarta confirmed the pilot’s nationality in a tweet, saying that “most unfortunate that Indian Pilot Bhavye Suneja who was flying JT610 also lost his life…Embassy is in touch with Crisis Center and coordinating for all assistance.”

A number of Indonesian officials were also on board the flight, with the Finance Ministry having lost 21 officials, out of whom 12 were from the tax directorate general, who were on commuting back to their post in Pangkal Pinang.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani visited police hospital and met with the grief-stricken families of her staff on Monday night to console them.

The ministry’s head of communications, Nufransa Wira Sakti, said in a statement that they were officials at the ministry’s Pangkal Pinang office.

“They were heading back to their work after spending the weekend to attend a ministry event on Oct 27 and to attend a coordination meeting, while also spending the weekend with their families in Jakarta,” Sakti said.

Also among the victims were three police personnel from Bangka Belitung police, three staff from the oil and gas directorate general of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, 10 staff from the State Audit Agency, six regional lawmakers of Bangka Belitung province, and four employees of the state-mining company, PT Timah.

Following the crash, Australia issued a warning to ban all Australian government officials and contractors from flying Lion Air or their subsidiary airlines and the decision will be reviewed when the findings of the crash investigation are clear.

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Police forensic team lay out debris recovered from Lion Air JT 610 crash site at the Tanjung Priok port on Tuesday, Oct 30, 2018 (Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata)

As of Tuesday afternoon, search efforts to collect debris from the plane are still under way with vessels sailing back and forth to Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok port to drop bags containing plane debris and body parts the search and rescue teams collected from the crash site, while police forensic teams continued sorting out the debris and personal belongings of the passengers on the dock.

The search and rescue agency’s deputy director for operations, Nugroho Budi said they have sent 13 body bags to the police hospital from Tuesday’s operation and found 52 national identity cards.

“The search and rescue team will expand the search area to a radius of 15 nautical miles from the crash site,” Budi said in a press conference.

Head of medical and health of the national police, Arthur Tampi, said the forensic team had examined 24 body bags and identified 87 body parts.

Tampi added that they had not been able to identify any of the victims as they received only body parts and none of the bodies were intact.

“The bodies have deteriorated in pieces and some of the bones were loose. I even saw parts of an infant body in one of the body bags,” Ari Dono, deputy of the national police chief said after an inspection to the police hospital morgue.

The story was first published in Arab News

 

Indonesia’s Smart Hajj app makes pilgrimage easier

Tech-conscious Indonesian pilgrims this year can count on their smartphones to make the pilgrimage easier by using the updated Smart Hajj application launched by the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

Available only to Android smartphone users since 2016, the app is available on Google Play Store and has been updated from its earlier version with more features on its menu.

“We have added more detailed information about the pilgrimage,” ministry spokesman Mastuki said.

Pilgrims can get information about their hotels, modes of transport, and a menu of the food they will eat throughout the journey by logging in the app, he added.

img_1087.jpgBy entering the code of their flight group, pilgrims can find out which hotel they will stay at in Makkah and Madinah, along with the map and online directions to get to the hotel and information on the facilities the hotel provides.

The pilgrims can also get information on the kind of food on the menu prepared for them on a specific day during their stay. Mastuki said this is an updated feature which previously only showed an example of a menu for the pilgrims.

The app has been downloaded more than 10,000 times and has received mixed reviews from 395 users, of which 240 gave the app five stars. Some complaints in the reviews said the screen sometimes goes black and white and that it was still “too buggy.”

“Pilgrims can also submit complaints on problems they found during this year’s pilgrimage by logging in to the feature using their passport numbers,” said Sri Ilham Lubis, the ministry’s director for Hajj services, during the app launch on July 15.

According to data from the ministry, 81,618 Indonesian pilgrims had already arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.

Up to 221,000 pilgrims are expected to depart from Indonesia this year and the last Hajj departure will be on Aug. 14.

Read the full story in Arab News

 

 

Indonesia shines a light on dishonest Umrah operators

Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs has revamped its supervision of Umrah tour operators and imposed a moratorium on issuing licenses to new ones as of April.

The moratorium was imposed as a major Umrah scam case, which cost 58,682 aspiring Umrah pilgrims a combined loss of 848.70 billion rupiah ($60 million), was being heard at a court near Jakarta.

On May 30, the Depok district court on the outskirts of Jakarta handed down respectively 20- and 18-year prison terms to the husband and wife team Andika Surachman and Anniesa Hasibuan, a fashion designer who made a name for herself after her modest fashion collection was debuted internationally in London and showcased at New York Fashion Week in Sep 2016, during which “her works received eminent applause,” according to the fashion week’s website.

“We are reviewing the 906 Umrah tour operators currently listed in the ministry. We have also revoked licenses of four operators so far this year,” ministry spokesman Mastuki said.

“The minister of religious affairs has also issued a ministerial regulation which details new rules for Umrah tour operators to abide by, such as the price reference should be at least 20 million rupiah ($1,428) and customers should be able to go to Makkah no longer than six months since they made their first payments,” Mastuki added.

Sobandi, the presiding judge, also gave Anniesa and her husband Andika a 10-billion-rupiah fine each on fraud, embezzlement and money laundering charges.

Mastuki said the verdicts are proper punishments that everyone has to accept.

“Justice has been served, despite the consequences and losses that their customers suffered,” he said.

Through a Jakarta-based travel agency, which they had established in 2009, First Travel, Anniesa and Andika used to offer a cheap Umrah package, which cost about 14.3 million rupiah ($1,000) and was $300 cheaper than a normal package would cost.

“The defendants had known from the start that the 14.3-million-rupiah package per person would not be enough to send a customer to perform Umrah,” Yulinda Trimurti, a member of the panel of judges, said during the hearing.

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Photo: Facebook/Anniesa Hasibuan Official

The pair, whose lavish lifestyle was on full display on their social media accounts, had promised customers who paid in full that they could go to Makkah for Umrah in a year.

But customers’ complaints began to arise and were made public after a group of would-be pilgrims failed to depart to Makkah in March 2017 and the travel agent could not give an estimated schedule of when they could eventually go.

From December 2016 to May 2017, there were 72,682 Umrah hopefuls signed up for the cheap package that First Travel offered, but the company was only able to send 14,000 customers to Saudi Arabia.

The pair also owed 24 billion rupiah ($1.7 million) to three hotels in Makkah and Madinah.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs revoked First Travel’s license as an Umrah operator in early August last year and later in the month, the police named the pair and Anniesa’s younger sister Siti Nuraidah Hasibuan as suspects and charged them with fraud and money laundering. Siti Nuraidah, also known as Kiki, was sentenced to 15 years in prison by the same court.

Anniesa had been listed among Forbes Indonesia’s 2017 Inspiring Women earlier last year before the fraud case became public. But later in August, the magazine announced on its official Facebook page that it has removed her from the list.

“Forbes Indonesia endorses ethical business practices and wish to inspire others to achieve their success through ethical means of doing business,” the magazine said.

The police are now investigating a similar case involving a Makassar-based Umrah tour operator Abu Tour. Mastuki said Abu Tour’s case was similar to First Travel, which gained customers through Ponzi-scheme promotions and cheap packages.

“Initially there were about 80,000 prospective pilgrims who couldn’t go, but some have been remedied and sent on Umrah trips through other operators,” he added.

The long waiting list for Indonesians to go on Hajj, which could extend for more than two decades, has created a lucrative market for Umrah tour operators in the world’s largest Muslim population country to send pilgrim hopefuls to Makkah.

Read the full story in Arab News