Telum Talks to... Cristian Rahadiansyah, Editor-in-Chief, DestinAsian Indonesia
Currently the Editor-in-Chief of DestinAsian Indonesia, Cristian Rahadiansyah has also written several books including Catatan Emas trilogy, which he wrote with Bajo Winarno. He also wrote in Young Southeast Asia (2007) published by Artpost Asia to commemorate the 40th anniversary of ASEAN. After more than 10 years involvement in the travel journalism sector, Cristian shares his insights on the industry, its development, and current challenges.
What is the essence of travel journalism?
I have taught in several classes about travel journalism and I always say we have to differentiate between travel writing and travel journalism. Travel writing is when you’re writing a blog, it’s free from the journalism guidelines. Meanwhile, travel journalism is bound to the journalism guidelines, so the desire to tell something factual and balanced should be priority. Though the job is arguably not as prestigious as politics and economics journalism, travel journalism can provide something extraordinary because there are lots of interesting phenomena in this world. Travel journalism also allows us to visit different places, meet different people, search for different issues, and exploring the cultural character of a place.
Does travel journalism have some roles in promoting local culture or travel destination?
This is one of the reasons why I want to work in the travel media. We know that Indonesia has a lot of travel destinations. We have 13,000 islands (17,000 when the sea recedes). There are many interesting, but uncharted and unknown places. That is why I hope that travel media can open people's eyes.
One of the examples is when I covered stories in Toraja. Toraja was once the second official tourism icon after Bali (government version), but in the last 10 to 20 years, the numbers of tourists are declining and a lot of hotels and restaurants are closed. What happened? Why was such an exotic place being left behind? The reason is actually quite complex. What makes Toraja interesting is its culture, but now the Torajans are more modern. In the past, the great ceremony was only carried out by the people from the highest caste, but now low-caste people can do that, so the cultural values are diminishing and are increasingly eroded by modernisation. But who is to blame? It’s their right to become modern. This case is very interesting because we can see that culture is very vulnerable and it can affect tourism. Toraja is one example of how change can be difficult to withstand.
What is your view on "Once a place gets more recognition, waste problem is one of many problems that likely to follow"?
This is a classic dilemma. Should tickets to Raja Ampat be discounted so that more people can go there for diving? Or should we make it more expensive to keep the place clean? Well, the most cliché answer for the waste problem is that laws need to be created and enforced.
As travel journalists, we also feel this dilemma whenever we publish a story and the place in our story becomes popular and then it's ruined. Who is the one to blame? The media who tells the story? This will always be debatable. In my opinion, everything goes back to education. Why do Indonesians feel freer to litter in Indonesia and yet when in Singapore, they suddenly become disciplined? Is it because of so many CCTVs or do they have to be forced? The point is, everything goes back to education.
Any tips to write a good travel piece?
First, you must know what you want to write, is it for personal blog or a media outlet? If it’s for a personal blog, we can include our personal preferences, while for journalism work, we must get rid of all personal judgment. Simply put, I have never seen all beaches around the world, so I can't say that beach A is nicer than beach B because that judgment would be misleading. We just have to write a comparison between the two beaches so we can have a balanced and factual story.
Secondly, you need to read a lot. Adequate references should make our writings better. Thirdly, the most important thing in travel article is actually telling something not from our point of view, but from the point of view of the people around. Writing about one place from the locals' point of view makes our story richer.
What's your most memorable coverage?
I think one of my memorable coverage was when my photographer and I were investigating the population of komodo. We rented a boat, vacillated in the sea, and there were several times we were chased by komodos. We ran away to find a local ranger. In the end, we all ran together though. I found out that komodo is not a solo hunter. When one komodo is chasing us, another komodo is actually sneaking around to catch us when we're careless. From that investigation, we also see the condition of the local rangers there, how lots of their rifles were old and rusty. It was an interesting experience because we could see the reality behind the place that is praised for its beauty.
Your favourite destination?
In Indonesia, I would say Raja Ampat because I love diving. Raja Ampat feels so ancient and everything feels a lot bigger than it should be. The fishes, the mosquitos... The underwater world is like a separate civilisation and it feels like it’s a few centuries behind compared to other parts of Indonesia.
For international destinations, I would say Japan, especially Tokyo. The city is always attractive, although it’s very crowded and everyone isrushing as if they are being constantly chased by debt collectors, the food is amazing and the hospitality is superb. On several occasions when I asked for directions, The Japanese accompanied me until I reached my destination, which makes me uncomfortable. They're always in a hurry but when there is someone needs help, they’re always willing to lend a hand and they do it sincerely. I also feel safe there.
Your thoughts on Indonesian tourism?
I think the majority of tourists are too concentrated in certain destinations. The government had tried to make alternatives destinations outside of Bali, but we can't see the results yet. I have interviewed Lawrence Blair (the author of Ring of Fire) and his opinion was quite interesting. According to him, a destination can't be created, if we look at the history of the places that are now popular as Indonesia's tourism magnets, they grow organically. The people in those areas have a service soul and are open to strangers.
The government is also not too synergic with the local communities. I think they should communicate more with the local community, ask them if they want their place to be a tourist destination or not. Because, in the end, even though the place is beautiful if the people don’t want to open themselves to strangers or tourists, it won't work.
How has travel journalism evolved?
In the past, travel media and guidebook were the sole references for the traveler, there was no other alternative for information, unlike now, where there are lots of competitors and information are available on various sources. Personal relationships and media status as the primary reference is now shifted.
The challenge for travel journalism is to provide something that can only be delivered by journalists, which are reportage and investigation. Those things are something that guidebook writers can't do. So, this encourages us to become sharper when writing or searching for issues, as well as more creative when choosing a destination to report on.
Nowadays, the audiences are also more diverse. Back then, there is only one kind of traveller, but now there are some people who are looking for visuals and tend to look for places that are Instagrammable. Meanwhile, there are also people who want to avoid the crowd and want a vacation that allows them to break away from their daily routines.