Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Batam Island and Golden View Hotel
My first trip to Batam was sometime in the mid 80s with some of my airport colleagues and I vividly remember we stayed at Turi Beach in Nongsa, then a very much sought after 5-star resort and of course, its rate was also rather stiff. Batam then boosted of these two popular resorts, Turi Beach and Batam View. The sleepy island, two third the size of Singapore was abruptly made popular when its radio station, Zoo 101.6 went 24/7 where many listeners from Singapore started to tune to its non-stop airing of music. Then, the radio stations in Singapore did not run 24 hours but rendered no option when they realised many of their advertisers were turning to Zoo 101.6, they countered with their 24-hour radio programs to re-capture audience. Much to their relief, they recovered quickly and now, nobody in Singapore talks about Zoo 101.6, let alone remember they were once 'the-talked-about radio station' in Singapore.
A follow up day trip made (still in the late 80s) with some friends on one weekend and the surge of crowd at Clifford Pier terminal (which later moved to World Trade Centre, now called HarbourFront) heading for Batam was simply unbelievable - short of a stampede, it was like bumper-to-bumper during boarding. Among the so-called attractions on the Batam island, we were brought to Tua Pek Kong temple (many who went solely to pray 4 numbers, supposedly many struck rich so claimed by some believers), the one & only traffic light on the island (where the guide so proudly announced to us on the coach) and the nondescript building housing all the popular deejays from Zoo 101.6 who have become household names in Singapore then. Another big lure was the purchase of duty free liquor and cigarette on the return, even on a short day trip but our government soon clamped down on this loophole. Slowly, Batam lost its lure as a tourist attraction and not long later, Bintan emerged as a hot tourist spot in our region. It was in the mid 90s era.
I was introduced to Ah Bee, the owner of present day Golden View by an acquaintance in the late 90s. The site where Golden View sits nicely now was still a flat plot. Ah Bee runs a popular seafood restaurant called 933 built on planks and poles above the water in the mouth of Tering Bay in Bengkong Laut. He had another seafood eatery called 555 in Nongsa which was swept away in a monsoon storm many years ago. He also runs a travel and coach company called Nusajaya 168. Evidently, he is fond of 15 if we add all the number together (933, 168 or 555) but despite knowing him for many years now, I still have not asked him why the number 15 - for good luck, perhaps?
Ah Bee is a self-made entrepreneur and he reminds me very much of one of our popular sitcoms character, 'Phua Chu Kang'. No air, no fuss and no posh office for himself - his only work desk is the two dining table near the entrance of his restaurant which he eats and conducts almost all his meetings there. He is a very hands-on type of person and when I was told by an acquaintance who used to work for him in the 90s that he had started to reclaim the water that fronts the bay around the perimeter of his land, I really had no clue how big and how much reclamation works until I witnessed it in recent years. At that time standing at the balcony of 933 restaurant, I can still see the calm turquoise sea so near me but each time, I visited his place, the water seemed to move further and further away. In Singapore, all reclamation works in Singapore is undertaken by our government involving bigwigs in the industry but this is the self-made man who oversees the entire reclamation project from the smallest detail to the last. Since the late 90s, he has reclaimed some 200 hectares and work is still not done. It is no small feat by an individual who has the bold vision to see far and dares to dream, to say the least.
As far as I can remember, Golden View was conceptualised and work started in the late 90s but briefly stopped during the financial crisis. When most businesses in Indonesia were reeling badly from the damning crisis and many incomplete buildings were abandoned midway by owners, Ah Bee pressed on. He built the hotel painstakingly, floor-by-floor started with the basement. He was not in a hurry knowing too well the economic outlook was not favourable then. At the same time, his reclamation work continues, good time or bad. He emerged from the recession scath-free.
Bengkong is not the town centre, Nagoya is and it is not a known resort region like the idyllic Nongsa though the bay front is close by. It is definitely a big challenge to compete with the many city hotels in Nagoya town and the better known resorts, Turi Beach and Batam View in Nongsa. What can a new player, Golden View offer to the market then when Bengkong is neither in a town centre or resort region? The reclaimed land therefore plays a strategic role for the hotel.
I would be wrong, it took them some seven years to build the hotel, stopped during crisis period and continued when time was better. If I remember correctly, in year 2007 Golden View commenced its business. This is a 10 storey building block which boosts of some 215 rooms and meeting facilities, among others.
Ah Bee is not a hotelier, far from it but it does not deter him from taking a personal interest in running the hotel business, the travel business and among others. Almost daily, I understand he is the first at work and last to live. He is, of course fortunate to have his children who have come out of age to help him manage his businesses and his few trusted lieutenants too. Hendra, one of his two sons is tasked to handle the travel business and if any, he is the point man for the organisation. I have dealt with Hendra and though he is still a very young man in his mid 20s, he has already garnered the knowledge in running this business. Perhaps very much influenced by his father, he believes in 'win-win' in any deal. They know how to work well with travel partners, understand them and by-and-by, gained their trust and support. They are prepared to go aggressive with pricing if need be, knowing too well unfilled rooms is a total loss and their other ancillary services will suffer along with it if there is no crowd. One does not need to go to school to learn about economics for they know keeping cost low is critical to go the distance. An example, switching off the aircon supply in the lobby area in the late evening on a typical low weekday to save on high energy cost is a sure no-no for a established hotel chain but where it makes commercial sense, they just do it.
My most recent trip to Golden View on a weekday with a friend has left a deep impression on how things have developed thus far. Outside Golden View, the sprawling reclaimed land (then was just water aplenty) offers hotel guests and even locals varied choices to while away their times. Ah Bee believes having myriad of activities will attract people and I cannot disagree with me. I once asked him why he needs to reclaim when there is no shortage of land in Indonesia and he said, something to this effect, "The reclaimed land will allow me to plan ahead and maximise to the fullest when the time comes." At the furthest end of the reclaimed land, one can see the shore of bustling Singapore on a clear day. Some houses are already built and I believe in years to come, more houses will throng the vast land. It just costs a mere S$30,000 to have a landed property near the sea. S$3 million may not even get one a landed house in Sentosa, see the diff? Team building, go karting and paintball activities are already in operation for quite a while now. Always a must have, the sea sport activities are already up and running and more to be added. They have even acquired Cheng Ho junk from Singapore for sea cruises around the bay. There is this little miniature park which houses the varied cultures of Indonesia, a brief history lesson for visitors. There is no entrance fee to all the attractions and especially on weekend, it is crowded with the locals. Where there is crowd, they will patronise his eatery and joints and it is 'win-win', that's the key word.
This is the man who does it himself, guided by practicality and experiences from the hard knock in life. The hardware is already there, the vision too though workmanship can be improved more and it is still very a work-in-progress. Once his land has matured and investor confidence in Indonesia has improved, the future ahead is bright. Hang on, Ah Bee.