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City guides: How to do business in Jakarta, Indonesia


Malcolm Manson 


Business Development Manager, Subsea 7


How often do you travel to Jakarta and who do you fly with?

Over the last four years, I’ve been to Jakarta every two or three weeks; I generally stay for a week each time, and sometimes over the weekend.

One thing everyone ought to know about Jakarta.

Traffic is a big problem. Distance is not the issue; rather, it’s the time of day and direction of travel that can have a huge impact. The shortest of distances can take over an hour to cover, so make sure you arrange for a driver, or take a Silver Bird or Blue Bird taxi and sit back and relax or do some work – no point getting stressed out. I never plan more than a couple of meetings a day as the traffic can severely impact plans.

How quickly can you get a visa? Online, embassy or visa on arrival?

Fortunately, I have an annual, multiple-entry business visa; this didn’t take long to arrange – maybe a week, once all the paperwork was in order. Visa on arrival is still reasonably quick; the fee is US$35 for a single-entry, and it takes up half a page of your passport.

Fastest way into and around the city?

Silver Bird taxis for me are a must; they can be pre-booked or picked up outside the Arrival Hall at Soekarno-Hatta Airport. They’re usually Mercedes or Toyota Camry cars, with English-speaking drivers who are “careful” and who know where they’re going without taking unnecessary detours. Blue Bird taxis, meanwhile, tend to be Toyota Altis cars; they’re from the same organisation so the drivers can be trusted, however they’re less likely to speak English, may be unable to offer a receipt, and often seem to dislike using the air-con!

When are the good and bad times to visit?

Any time is a good time: the people are friendly, helpful and always smiling. Do note that during the holy month of Ramadan, it can be more difficult for non-Muslims in the city because of the stricter rules at restaurants and bars.

What hotels do you recommend?

I usually stay at the Mulia Hotel in Senayan, a fantastic five-star hotel where the staff knows me by name; it’s my second home. There’s a Mulia Privileges rewards programme that converts stays and spend into points that can be redeemed against free nights in the Mulia in Jakarta or Bali, as well as on food and beverages and spa treatments.

I’ve also stayed in the larger chains, such as the Shangri-La and Grand Hyatt. The Dharmawangsa is a boutique hotel worth exploring, and The Fairmont is a new hotel that has just opened in Senayan; it looks like a winner – close to shops, bars and restaurants.

What’s the dress code for meetings?

I prefer to wear my suit, usually with an open-neck shirt; however, normal Asian business attire of slacks and shirt is also acceptable. On Friday, it’s common for people to wear traditional Indonesian batik shirt in Jakarta, either short- or long-sleeved; I usually wear one too, as a mark of respect to my hosts.

Any cultural or business etiquette to be aware of?

Indonesian people are generally warm and friendly and smile a lot, and they don’t like to say no. Therefore, in business terms, it’s important to understand that unless your host says yes, he means no – and you shouldn’t back him into a corner to say no. A different approach to the problem may be acceptable, but without a yes it’s most definitely a no!

Friday lunchtime is usually an extended one as many Indonesians attend prayers and meet friends and colleagues for a weekly catch-up; don’t make or expect a meeting on a Friday afternoon.

You’re taking a client to lunch or dinner, where do you go?

Because of the traffic, taking clients to lunch isn’t always as easy as you might expect; they usually prefer to eat close to their office; this can usually be achieved fairly painlessly. As for dinner, my favourite places include, for traditional Indonesian Chinese, Dapur Babah Elite in Kota near the National Monument (fantastic food and authentic and rustic décor), and, for Western-style food, Potato Head Garage in Bengkel (fabulous steaks and good service in a large open space with amazing chandeliers – it used to be a garage workshop for Ferraris and Lamborghinis).

Name some casual bars to go for a drink with clients where you won’t get hassled.

Nip & Dram in The Landmark Center is a hidden gem, accessed by a secret knock, and selling – as you’d expect from the name – fantastic Scottish single malts and other drinks, in an atmosphere akin to a stately old home library, with leather sofas and chairs. It gets more lively later in the evening, with a resident jazz band, and later still on weekends when a DJ spins some tunes. More lively again is Loewy bistro in Oakwood Premier Cozmo in Kuningan: good food and service, but a little noisy and always busy. Finally, I have to mention the chocolate martinis in The Dharmawangsa hotel – best I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve sealed a deal there over a couple!

Any unsafe areas to avoid?

Anyone who travels a lot and is streetwise enough to know what’s right and wrong will know where not to be; Kota, the old centre of Jakarta, is vibrant and traditional by day, but not really somewhere to visit at night.

You’ve got some spare time, what’s the must-see?

The National Monument (“Monas”) is the city’s main landmark; it’s made of gold and symbolises the people of Indonesia. The flame at the top changes colour from the lights at night and you can ride around the surrounding park in a horse and carriage.

Gifts to take home for family and friends?

Batik for both males and females as a traditional dress or traditional ornaments, antiques and woodcarvings can be found in Sarina Plaza or in Pasaraya Blok M.

How long before your flight do you really need to be at the airport?

You can get to Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in around 45 minutes on a good day, but it can be double that if the traffic gets blocked up; I’ve only missed a flight once though.

The check-in process is reasonably fluid, though there could always be more check-ins open, like at any airport. However, the squeeze tends to be at immigration – generally there are half as many desks open for foreigners as for Indonesians.

I try to be at the check-in desk at least an hour before departure, but that’s probably cutting it fine; 90 minutes is more reasonable.