Waiters wearing blangkon (traditional Javanese head-dress) and batik sashes, diners enjoying soto Madura to the unique sound of a Sasando stringed instrument, and girls modeling ikat dresses on a catwalk.
All this sounds familiar. Except the above didn’t take place in Jakarta, or even Kupang, but in London, the UK. The event was a gala dinner on April 29 marking the end of the one-month “Remarkable Indonesia” extravaganza at the iconic Harrods department store, as part of the Indonesian government’s Visit Indonesia Year promotional activities.
“This is a golden opportunity for Indonesia to target the British market,” said Sapta Nirwandar, the director general of marketing in the Culture and Tourism Ministry. “Indonesia has been wanting to promote itself in Harrods for many years. And as Indonesia needs to establish an image first, Harrods is the right place to be. In the whole of April, 1.5 million people visited Harrods and those, we hope, were exposed to the *Remarkable Indonesia promo’.”
Yuri Thamrin, the Indonesian ambassador to Great Britain. proudly said: “This is the most successful event that has been held to promote Indonesia,” he added, “and the best way to enter the heart is through the stomach.”
That’s why one of the main attractions was the chance to taste close to 20 Indonesian dishes at Harrods’ famous food hall and the store’s Georgian restaurant.
To ensure the food was as authentic as possible, and that its presentation attracted British customers not familiar with Indonesian dishes, “Dapur Femina” team’s Mirta Kartohadiprodjo, chairman of Femina group and Linda Adimidjaja, managing editor of Femina’s special projects, collaborated closely with the restaurant’s head chef Daniel Hillier and his team.
However, not many customers were adventurous enough to buy the food. Barbara, who came from Scotland, was so amazed by the food presentation she could not stop complementing it. “It’s gorgeous,” she said. “The food looks beautiful.” And yet at the end she settled for English cottage pie.
A sale might have been secured if there had been samples for her to try. Tumpal Hutagalung, the economic counselor from the Indonesian embassy explained: “Sampling to encourage people to taste Indonesian food was planned in the middle of the month. But this never occurred since Harrods did not allow heating food for sampling in their premises”.
Meanwhile, those familiar with Indonesian food like Bernadette from Yorkshire, thought an international buffet – which was not exclusively Indonesian food, priced at *42 per person was a bit too much for lunch.
Lydia Long, another visitor, said: “The in-store promotion is in your face everywhere, but then there are not many things you can buy either from the attractive showcase from Alun Alun Indonesia or the stunning batik dresses, accessories. Even Singgih Kartono’s Magno wooden radios which are on display are not available for sale in Harrods”.
Judith Cook, who lives in London, did not hear about the promotion. She saw it when passing Harrods and did not even realize Indonesian food would be available.
“Why not create something more spectacular and focus on the shadow puppet *wayang* rather than putting too many cluttering objects *in the window display* that are not relevant to the target audience. What is missing is cross promotion from various parties. There’s no follow up action to people’s interest and curiosity,” she said.
Noviendi Makalam, the secretary of the directorate general of marketing from the Indonesian Culture and Tourism Ministry acknowledged that: “Our challenge was to make a breakthrough promo that was creative and effective for the UK tourism market”.
Such shortcomings can partly be explained by the short time frame in which the event was arranged. Noviendi, referred to the preparation of the “Remarkable Indonesia” event in Harrods as a Proyek Sangkuriang*.
“Without the support of the professional team of Femina who helped prepare the culinary recipes, presentation and supervising, Pincky Sudarman’s *from Alun Alun* magic touch as a stylist/decorator expert, the Trade Ministry and KBRI’s support, and other sponsors, the mission would have remained impossible”.
The decision to run the event for the whole month of April was taken in January 2010, and strings had to be pulled to make it happen. Professional parties were summoned to be in the team that could make the project possible in less than three months.
According to Guy Cheston, Harrods’ advertising sales and sponsorship director: “This is a breakthrough – that Harrods managed to work an event this big promoting a country and its product in less than three months. Usually, Harrods will plan as far as a year beforehand, like what they did before with Malaysia and Thailand.”
The obvious question is: Why do it in such haste then? Surely Indonesia would have got more mileage from the Rp 5.5 billion event had it been held in 2011, with more time to prepare?
Sapta responded: “We seized the opportunity while it was available to us, as we might not get the slot again next year”.
According to Noviendi, “The ideal situation would have been if the promotion could have been executed more systematically, and more importantly integrated and coordinated by all parties including UK buyers and distributors for Indonesian products. Quality wise, Indonesian products are already at par, the biggest challenge is the consistency on delivery and packaging”.
The biggest learning of this collaboration, Ambassador Thamrin noted, was that Indonesia needed profiling and a strong image of products it had expertise in, such as spas, haute couture, jewelry and batik.
On the chance of tempeh entering the UK market, he said: ” The UK standard for food and health is a challenge for us, but the embassy is more than willing to help and support any plan to promote Indonesian products, especially tempeh”.
Mahendra Siregar, deputy minister of trade, told the Jakarta Post just before the gala dinner: “Through this *Remarkable Indonesia’ *event*, we want to inform the World! It is very important to have strategic collaboration with many high-prestigious institutions, businesses and other international stakeholders. We want to show the world that Indonesia has many products of such a distinctive quality”.
Asked about the next concrete follow-up step to this promotion, Mahendra said there would be a big team from Harrods coming to Indonesia soon to find out how Indonesia should expand its activities for next year.
Indonesia has to start shifting from the old folktale Proyek Sangkuriang mindset to 360 degrees branding, marketing and communications to bring Indonesian tourism up to and beyond other Asian countries.
* Proyek Sangkuriang is an Indonesian folklore legend about a young man who was given an impossible task – in order to fail – by Dayang Sumbi, a beautiful woman who unbeknown to him was his own mother trying to cancel their plan for an incestuous wedding. Sangkuriang almost made it thanks to the help of the supernatural workers, until Dayang Sumbi tricked him.