For many years, Surakarta was regarded as a city steeped in history and heritage, but still a minor tourist destination in Central Java. It was usually considered a quick side-trip on the way to more touristy neighboring Yogyakarta.
It’s only in recent years that the city commonly known as Solo has undergone rapid and positive changes. Under the leadership of Mayor Joko Widodo, better known as Jokowi, it has become an increasingly popular destination among domestic and foreign tourists.
Many credit the visionary mayor’s backing for helping put the city on the tourism map. Jokowi has made breakthroughs in enhancing the branding of Solo by using many cities in Europe that he visited as a reference for tourism development.
Jokowi’s concrete actions in building the branding of Solo include relocating secondhand goods vendors from Banjarsari Park without causing unrest. The relocation was aimed at revitalizing the function of the park as a gathering place for the public to relax.
With the slogan, “Solo: The Spirit of Java”, statues and paintings of wayang (puppet) characters decorate public facilities of roads, parks, markets and hotels. Some forms of transportation vehicles also take their names from ancient figures or wayang characters, such as the Jaladara steam train, the Werkudara double-decker bus and the Batara Kresna railbus.
Balekambang Park, located in central Solo, also serves as a welcoming public park. Complete with a fish pond and stage, the park is also helping revive Solo’s culture, with traditional performances such as wayang orang (traditional drama performance) frequently staged.
Jokowi, who is currently running for Jakarta governor, proposed that Solo become a member of the Organization of World Heritage Cities, and the proposal was approved in 2006. As part of the branding of Solo, the city with a population of about 500,000 has hosted several international events and conferences, including the organization’s conference in October 2008 and the World Music Festival. The annual festival is held at the Fort Vastenburg Complex.
“Jokowi has done a great job in tourism and the hotel industry. The slogan has managed to lift up the branding. If we want to move forward we have to have a clear branding and a clear blue-print of where we want to go,” said Herman Courbois, the general manager of Best Western Premier Solo.
“Solo is trying to create an identity, which could be heritage, culinary or culture, but the vision to have a comprehensive branding is not clear,” he said.
The message must be shared and understood by all parties involved, he added.
“I do admit that Solo has put itself on the map of Indonesia and even abroad, but the message sent out is not always consistent, which could confuse the market. Solo is starting to become a well-known city of culture and heritage, but this as well needs more attention and detailing.”
The branding of Solo, initiated by the local government, must involve all stakeholders. The hotel industry is one of the important stakeholders when it comes to sending out the message about Solo’s brand, given that the branding has a direct effect on the industry.
“Promoting the city will for sure increase business coming to Solo. So we should all work together, and send out the same message. But we cannot do it alone, we need all stakeholders from transportation, travel agents, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), guides and artists,” Courbois said.
He believes the branding of Solo has not been fully implemented by all the parties involved .
“The slogan ‘Solo: The Spirit of Java’ needs to be endorsed by all parties involved, in order to make it permanent and have the impact we would like to see from it. For any branding, it’s a long term progress and it needs full attention, all the time, in order to be effective. Another factor is that the guidance or roadmap is not really clear, and the slogan is changing over time,” he said.
Consistency and a clear vision should be prioritized, with an understanding that it is not achieved overnight.
“Without that, any branding is not achieving its goal,” he said.“To change the mindset of the people is a long process, and needs time and consistency on all fronts. By creating the awareness in the market, we should also be consistent to provide what we promised.”
To attract more tourists to Solo, he proposed that the administration of regencies surrounding the city should collaborate to develop tourist potential for the region.
“For example, Karanganyar regency, with its Sukuh and Cetho temple and Tawangmangu waterfalls, and Boyolali, with its dairy cows, can be developed into amazing tourist attractions,” he said.
“The idea behind this is to increase tourists’ length of stay in Solo. Usually it takes only several hours for tourists to stay and explore Solo and they are apt to either return to Yogyakarta or head for Bali. But if each regency around Solo offers tourist attractions, then, hopefully, tourists will stay longer in Solo,” he said.
He is upbeat about the relatively increasing number of tourists coming to Solo as a result of enhanced branding of Solo, even though much work has to be done to develop the city as a major tourist destination.
“Solo has a lot of tourist potential. There are many old places that are still intact and worth a visit. They should be preserved,” he said.
“Museums in Solo should allow children to learn about history of Solo, puppets, batik and so forth.”
He also suggested that batik-making lessons and teaching people how to play traditional gamelan music should be included in the museum programs as part of efforts to encourage children and young people to appreciate and preserve Solo’s cultural heritage.
2012 calendar of cultural events
There is a user-friendly calendar of upcoming events released by the local administration’s communications and information office.
Mangkunegaran Performing Arts
May 11-12, Pura Mangkunegaran
Asia Pacific Historian Conference
May 22-24, Solo
Keraton Art Festival
June 13-14, Keraton Kasunanan
June 30, Jalan Slamet Riyadi Solo
International Ethnic Music (SIEM)
July 4-8, Taman Balekambang
June 13-16 June 2012, Kompleks Balaikota Surakarta
Sept. 14-15, Kawasan Mangkunegaran
Sept. 21-22, Ngarsopuro/Sriwedari
International Performing Arts (SIPA)
Sept. 28-30, Solo
Investment Tourism and Trade Expo (SITTEX)
Oct. 11-14, Solo
International Tea Festival
Oct. 13-14, Solo
Nov. 9-11, Solo
Bengawan Solo Gethek Festival
Nov. 11, Bengawan Solo River