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Indonesia’s Hotel Industry Inside Out with Emily Subrata of Sudamala Resorts

SRS-Emily Subrata - Director of Sudamala Resorts

A press release for an opening of a resort near Komodo Island that will happen in several months time grabbed my attention. It definitely looked like ‘bucket list’ material, so I contacted the owner to find out more about what inspired such a project. Resorts Director Emily Subrata told me simply that ‘We have resorts in Bali, Lombok, and we wanted to wow guests with something more, so this is it’

Emily said that there were some challenges in developing Sudamala Komodo Villas and Dive Resort. The resort is the only Indonesian owned and operated luxury resort in this region. What kind of challenges? Emily shared with us:  

“Infrastructure to start with – an inordinately huge amount of work to do before we could even really start construction. We’ve had to build our own infrastructure to support the demands of running a hotel. That includes needing to generate our own power, phone signals and not to mention wifi. We need to desalinate our own water.  That means that we needed to do our homework to ensure whatever trees were going to be on and around the property wouldn’t demand too much fresh water as it is an incredibly expensive commodity.  Sourcing water from other islands is difficult and costly, so we needed to find a source of water on our land. Aside from those natural resources, we also have to source qualified human resources –  or at least those willing to learn about the hospitality industry, have the discipline to work in this industry and the flexibility to work effectively  within the ‘boutique resort’ concept”

In the heavily saturated, competitive ‘boutique hotel’ market in Indonesia, Emily shared with us how she and her resorts try to ensure that they ‘stand out’ from the crowd.

“I think that we need to really be self-aware; that is, knowing to whom we appeal to, how to appeal to them and how to get their repeat business. Without meaning to sound fluffy, we place a huge emphasis on building up relationships of warmth and trust with our guests. My father’s and my directive to our staff is to always treat our guests the way they would treat their own personal guests when visiting and staying at their home. Where would you take them? How well would you look after them if it was your goal to ensure that they’d fall in love with your home and want to return regularly? Maintaining and growing our ‘boutique hospitality’ concept is premised on this line of thought.

Once you have that relationship, guests then feel completely at ease with you and automatically find it easy to want to return because they know that everything will be taken care of, specifically to their liking. The secret is that these loyal guests are also the ones who not only return, but patiently help you to improve again and again.  Once the relationship has been earned, this class of guest won’t tend to complain as much, rather they will constructively give you their input on what they think is best for you, for the staff, for Sudamala as a resort and for Griya Usaha as a company.

Additionally, we cannot deny actively and dynamically managing rates and revenue is absolutely crucial. While the hotel industry in all our locations is extremely competitive, we really cannot afford to undercut all of our competitors. If we all do that, at what level will the downward price spiral stop? There will be no more living to be made out of the industry if we constantly slash prices, and customers then read between the lines that you’re not a good destination.”

Although Emily is relatively new to the industry, it looks like she’s in it for the long haul.

“This is a family business after all, where you put in not only time and effort, but also your entire heart and soul. I studied social sciences, and finding I’ve always thrived when in came to education, I started a career in education management in Sydney, Australia (which is where I also spent my formative years). After much consideration – privately at first, then with my sister who is my closest confidante, then my family – I decided to return to Indonesia in 2012 to join the family business.In ordert to prepare myself, I went through several management training programmes at hotels in Bali and Jakarta before departing for Switzerland in 2013 to obtain my MBA in Hospitality Management at Ecole hoteliere de Lausanne – the oldest hospitality school in the world.. Upon completing my degree in 2014, I re-joined the company and have been actively involved in all things Sudamala since.”

Lastly, I asked Emily about what needs to be changed in Indonesia’s Hotel Industry.

“The continuous dispensing of hotel licenses in oversupplied places – particularly Bali. As well as cutting off businesses at the knees as they can no longer compete. This is also creating environmental problems, such as the planned reclamation of land in Bali, as well as the age-old but ridiculously scary problems of pollution, waste and space management.  

The lack of follow-up action after vows to make tourism a priority in Indonesia is also an issue. Tourism brings in so much for the country – employment, upskilling, investment to name a few , yet the efforts don’t seem to be serious enough to warrant things like having a ‘Tourism Indonesia’ presence at world class B2C travel exhibitions. This can also be seen by the serious lack of effort in cultivating our biggest market – Australians. It feels like Indonesia just takes Australian visitors as a given right and won’t bother doing any further positive PR in Australia. Most of what Australians know about Indonesia is ‘Bali’ and ‘Kuta’, along with young kids partying and getting drunk and catching diseases etc. That’s IF they’re aware Bali is actually a part of Indonesia”

What impressed me the most about Emily Subrata isn’t just the resort and projects that she is working on, but also her passion, her personality and friendliness.  If Sudamala can render these things into their offerings, I believe that the future will be very bright for them.  

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