Change is in order for us to become an efficient nation. We need to go to extremes to shake people into realising the magnitude of the work we still have to do. We need shock therapy,” says Rizal Ramli, perched comfortably on a chair in his library.
Inside the green-walled space are massive bookshelves lining two sides of the room, filled from floor to ceiling with profiles of world leaders, as well as books on business and politics and numerous biographies of Albert Einstein. An admirer of Einstein, the newly inaugurated Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Resources shares the revolutionary scientist’s audacity and vision.
The former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs made headlines when turning the spotlight on the government-owned electrical company Perusahaan Listrik Negara, pointing out what he perceived to be inconsistencies within the company he had pulled out of deficit during his past tenure. Brazen and outspoken yet courteous and considerate, he shares his story of the day he received the offer to be the new Coordinating Minister of Maritime Affairs and Resources from the president.
“I have to admit, I was a little hesitant to take the offer,” he says. “My background is in economics and not maritime affairs. What made me decide to take the offer was what the president said. Humbly, he asked me to think of the people and what we can do together to improve our policies and better the people’s living standards.” The new minister wasted no time in reforming policies and implementing ideas within areas of his authority.
Actively sharing his plans with the media, arising questions are concentrated on his efforts to improve the traffic of Indonesia’s sea highways and ships’ dwelling times, as well as air and land transportation. Solid plans, which include the construction of a medium-speed train from Jakarta to Bandung and a high-speed train from Jakarta to Surabaya, are in the execution process. Yet Ramli challenges people to think beyond the present and envision what efficient transportation could mean for Indonesia in the long run. “Everything is connected. Better transportation could mean better performance in the tourism sector, which would lead to a stronger economy,” he explains.
The minister energetically expounds his plans to transform Indonesia’s tourism sector, which includes the ambitious strategy to rebrand and revamp the nation’s top tourist sites. “We have great potential. Imagine if Labuan Bajo could be the Monaco of Southeast Asia, or if people go to Borobudur not only for sightseeing, but for religious pilgrimage,” muses Ramli.
The minister delves deep into comprehensive plans to promote Indonesia’s unique strengths with plans custom-tailored to suit each region. “No two cities are alike and we require marketing plans that effectively communicate the unique strengths of each region. For example, Jakarta is very strong in retail. With the huge number of malls that we have, we need to make these spots more accessible for tourists,” he says. “A shuttle bus or train that takes visitors to all the retail spaces, among other efforts to improve transportation, will be a major point of attraction for Jakarta’s tourism.”
Ramli boils down the hurdles that Indonesia’s tourism is facing to a lack of marketing. Looking to Italy as an example in effective marketing, the minister likens the advertising process to a slow seduction. “The hard-sell approach is not an effective way to promote our tourism. We need to approach marketing in steps, like a seduction process. “The first step slowly takes tourists through the fascinating stories behind a historical site. Only when we have gone through the first step will the following stages will gain value. A monument will only be an object without the story behind it,” says Ramli. “It’s crucial to “The first step slowly takes tourists through the fascinating stories behind a historical site. Only when we have gone through the first step will the following stages will gain value. A monument will only be an object without the story behind it” incite imagination in visitors and to let their imagination enhance the experience of visiting the site.”
The minister’s ambitious plans are coupled with a pragmatic approach and simple solutions to offset the obstacles currently faced by Indonesia’s tourism. “I believe these goals are conceivable only if we work to improve the areas directly connected to tourism. As it stands, the process of getting to destinations such as Labuan Bajo and Flores is very convoluted. Moreover, Yogyakarta airport is not as efficient as it should be. If transportation runs seamlessly, it will have a tremendously positive impact on tourism,” says Ramli.
Like an alchemist, the optimistic minister possesses the aptitude of spinning a difficulty into an opportunity. When asked about the economic crisis currently faced by the nation, Ramli explains, “It is very easy to sink into a ‘can’t-do’ negative mindset during these tough times, but we must seize the opportunities presented with this event. As our currency drops, we can use this time to strengthen our exports and work to reinforce our local industries. If you look hard enough and try to seek opportunities, you will find them even in the direst of circumstances.”
As the interview comes to a close and Ramli prepares for his next appointment, the minister concludes the interview with simple yet poignant words. “There is beauty in thinking simply. The problems we are currently facing could often be solved by breaking them down to the simplest equation. We start solving a big problem by finding the simple solution first,” Ramli concludes as he hurriedly prepares for his next engagement.