Creative Bandung

Creative Bandung

Vibrant Indonesian city known for its distinctive tourism offerings is also home to a thriving startup culture. By Pathom Sangwongwanich in Bandung

Known for exquisite Dutch colonial architecture and many other tourist-friendly features, Bandung is also home to a large number of local startups that have tapped into a rich local reserve of creativity and palpable youthful enthusiasm.

Despite its modest economic contribution in the West Java city where tourism is king, the potential of the mushrooming creative sector cannot be overlooked as it helps to groom young entrepreneurs for future achievement.

Among the standouts on the booming local startup scene, Spasial is a platform intended to foster artistic ideas by providing spaces to produce and perform. Started in 2015 and based in a repurposed warehouse, it is dedicated to various art forms, such as musical performance, film screening, graphic design and art workshops.

"We generate a conducive environment for ground-breaking and cross-disciplinary explorations and also support the careers of many talents and makers," said Spasial principal Ardi Ardhana.

From an art gallery and cafe to a barbershop and mini production outlet for leather footwear, Spasial is essentially a multi-purpose compound designed as an incubator and co-working space. The venue regularly hosts various kinds of events to showcase raw artistic expression, including film and documentary screenings, live band concerts and design workshops.

Spasial is home to over 200 local and international members of the startup community, said Mr Ardi, adding that it receives funding from both the public sector and private investors.

Mr Ardi said his inspiration dated back to 2010 when there were very few groups or spaces fostering artistic development. The need to nurture young talents ignited a spark among him and his friends, he said.

Like many modern businesses, Spasial uses social media, mainly Facebook and Instagram, to disseminate news and publicise events as well as reach a wider audience, said Mr Ardi.

Bandung is seen as fertile ground for startups to grow because of the friendly ecosystem that has developed there. Among those offer venues, funding and coaching are Kolaborasi, Startup Corner, Indigo Creative Nation, Bandung Digital Valley and Startup Bandung, according to Global Indonesian Voices.

For instance, Kolaborasi is a combination of an incubation centre, startup community and holding company wrapped into one, according to Tech in Asia. It is also an investment partner that manages investors' funds channeled into rapidly growing new ventures.

Brotherwood is another Bandung-based startup that stands out for its focus on wood craftsmanship. Founded in mid-2016, it officially started operations three months ago in a location once used as a military base.

Co-founder Fariz Ariyadi says Brotherwood uses reclaimed wood, imported from Germany and the Netherlands, to produce décor items, chic household furniture and various wooden artworks, all handmade. Most of the woods have an elastic quality that makes them adaptable to different carving techniques and the stress of nail-punching machines.

"Our business focuses more on offering training programmes and workshops on wood craftsmanship rather than product sales," said Mr Fariz.

Customers, or rather fellow apprentices, come from all walks of life, including professionals coming to the venue after work, housewives, high school students and children, he said.

Like Spasial, Brotherwood uses social media to reach out to those interested in honing their skills in wood-carving.

"Everything is open source. If you browse our Instagram, you can see that we have shared all our knowledge [of wood craftsmanship]," said Mr Fariz.

TRAILBLAZING TOURISM

Nicknamed "The Paris of Java" during the Dutch colonial era because of the luxurious hotels, cafes and European boutiques that existed at the time, Bandung has grown out of its colonial shadow and been transformed into a tourist attraction in its own right, with its cool highland climate, enchanting textiles and striking natural landscape luring holidaymakers.

Among several popular tourist destinations, Tangkuban Perahu stands out as the only volcanic crater in West Java accessible by car all the way to its rim.

Visitors can also hike to the edge of the crater to view the hot springs and boiling mud at close range. They can even bring along eggs and cook them on the hot surface. The awe-inspiring sight of sulphur fumes emanating from the bowl puts the icing on the cake of a rich visitor experience.

Tourism is the main contributor to economic growth in thriving Bandung, the capital and largest urban centre in West Java province. The tourism industry contributes around 70% to local revenue, making it a colossal presence that is shaping urban development and economic transformation.

The number of foreign visitors to Bandung nearly doubled in April following the expansion of its airport, according to Indonesia's Central Statistics Agency. The city welcomed 30,806 foreign tourists in April, a rise of 90.6% from 15,828 in March.

Arief Yahya, the Minister of Tourism of Indonesia, said that easing regulations, such as visa restrictions, that were seen as bottlenecks had been responsible for growth in tourism over the past few years.

"When I was appointed as minister [in 2014], I played with the regulations. Our success story is about we have been deregulating," said Mr Arief. "Indonesia is a land of wonders holding treasures of diversity of culture, landscapes and cities."

As the country's third largest city with a population of 2.4 million, Bandung's charm also lies in its diverse culture. Unlike in Jakarta, Sundanese is often spoken as the first language and used for communication on the streets, while Bahasa Indonesia is the lingua franca at an official level.

Bandung's culture is quite diverse and this makes it attractive for tourism as there are many aspects for tourists to explore, said Kenny Dewi Kaniasari, head of the tourism marketing department with the municipal government.

Tourism has helped create jobs in the services sector, particularly hotels and hospitality, while events, carnivals and conferences also generate a considerable amount of revenue, she said.

Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are the top three Asean contributors to the substantial tourist arrivals in Bandung this year, she added.

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