When old is gold

Discover how tradition and culture help to form the tourism fabric in fast-developing Yogyakarta.

Above: A Hindu ceremony at Yogyakarta’s Prambanan temple to mark the Day of Silence

Yogyakarta may be a big city in the making, with hotels and shopping malls mushrooming across the city and the latest car models making runs on the roads, but this city remains a stronghold of Javanese culture and heritage.

For Fadli Fahmi Ali, founder and director of Werkudara Travel Management, there is no question Yogyakarta’s cultural identify is well and alive and will continue to be so.
“Culture and heritage are at the heart of the city. Despite the developments, it is culture and art that keeps our business and leisure clients interested,” he stated.

A Hindu ceremony at Yogyakarta’s Prambanan temple to mark the Day of Silence

Archaeological sites like Borobudur Buddhist Temple and Prambanan Hindu Temple, and Kraton (Yogyakarta’s Palace) are key attractions.

However, the fact is that Yogyakarta sees a high rate of repeat visitors. How then do travel companies keep tourists coming after they have crossed out these must-sees?

For Fadli, it comes down to enhancing the overall experience. He said: “There are several other small temples around Prambanan which we take travellers to. And to add to the experience, instead of sitting on a bus, travellers can take a bike, or hop on andongs (horse carts) or becaks (trishaws).”

A temple tour can also be combined with a nearby village, where tourists visit home industries producing tofu, brown sugar, or a local artist’s workshop demonstrating crafts such as wayang leather shadow puppet and wooden masks.

Barama Intercity Tour also combines a sunrise tour to Punthuk Setumbu hill overlooking the Borobudur Temple, followed by a guided tour of the temple and buffet breakfast at Manohara Hotel.

Hasan Prayogo, founder of Omah Kecebong guesthouse, believes local communities need to be an active part of tourism to set the city apart from other destinations.
He said: “I started the project in 2015 with cultural preservation in mind. We created a place for those who have an interest in local culture, while empowering the village and surrounding villages.”

Activities in Omah Kecebing include batik painting and gamelan music class run by local artists.

He also works together with ox-cart owners to who take travellers on tours of the village.
Such traditional activities appear to be of interest to Indonesian and international travellers. Between 2,500 and 3,000 guests visit Omah Kecebong every month, even with minimum promotional efforts.

Having witnessed strong retention of culture in the city despite growth in the last two decades, Alain Rigodin, general manager of Yogyakarta Marriott Hotel, however expects a new airport (opening in the next two years) may accelerate change.

“The new airport will be the game changer. When it opens, a larger number of tourists will (pour in) and change will take place,” said Rigodin.

“Nevertheless, I hope Yogyakarta will maintain its cultural identity, because (only then can it) differentiate itself from other destinations like Jakarta or Surabaya.”

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