Plenty of Room at Erastus’ Inn

By Lily Marpaung on 03:00 pm Aug 25, 2014

Lily Marpaung meets the hotelier striking a balance between art and hospitality, and succeeding too. (The Peak Photo/Michael Marcus Hutabarat)

Lily Marpaung meets the hotelier striking a balance between art and hospitality, and succeeding too. (The Peak Photo/Michael Marcus Hutabarat)

He’s a young hotelier who started his career working as a bellboy in Hawaii. Now Erastus Radjimin, the founder of Artotel, is ready to expand and share his brand with the rest of Indonesia.

In a country where big-name hotel chains dominate the main cities, smaller establishments have often found it difficult to stand out to attract tourists and businesspeople alike.

But two years ago, a new player entered the domestic boutique hotel market with a mission to stir things up.

Dubbed the Artotel, the new boutique chain that was first launched in Surabaya in 2012 has incorporated contemporary art into every corner of the establishment, transforming it into one of the hottest and most interesting places to stay in town.

This desire to become a hotelier all started with a day at the J.W. Marriott in Surabaya, where a young Erastus would often spend time roaming around the hotel that was owned by his father, James Radjimin.

“I remember spending my time after school at our hotel construction site. At that time, I really enjoyed every second there and I knew that I wanted to be a hotelier someday,” the 28-year-old explains over a cup of iced tea at Artotel’s outdoor Roca Cafe.

Stepping into the lobby of Artotel Jakarta, the second for the boutique brand, which is located in the leafy Menteng neighborhood, you immediately recognize that the venue is totally different from a conventional hotel. Guests are first greeted with a large purple mural by Jakarta graffiti artist Darbotz. And the lobby serves as a small gallery showing different artwork that is changed each month. When you look to your right, you will see a restaurant adorned with contemporary paintings all over the wall, created by artist Eddie Hara.

Erastus explains that he has been dreaming of creating a brand name and not just a string of hotels.

“My father’s business focuses more on constructing buildings. I want to do something more than that and start my own brand because I believe that you can only go so far without a strong brand in your hand,” he says.

Growing up in a family with a strong appreciation for art and culture, Erastus fell in love with the beauty of contemporary art. His father James is well known for his vast art collection and owns a private gallery so exclusive that the public has never set eyes on it. So it was with this appreciation for art passed on by his father, together with his avid art-loving sister Christine, that Erastus cooked up a concept for their pet project back in 2010.

“Every Artotel is different according to the city where it’s situated,” he says, adding that he will soon add two more to his current portfolio. “For Jakarta, I present an urban hotel for businessmen and younger crowds going on a short holiday. To do this I teamed up with artists renowned for their street-art style, such as Eddie Hara, Oky Rey Montha and Ykha Amelz.”

With 107 rooms all carefully and personally designed, the newly built Artotel can often have an occupancy rate of 97 percent, which is an astronomical achievement for such a young brand.

Great experience

Erastus Radjimin is a second-generation hotelier doing things his own way. (The Peak Photo/Michael Marcus Hutabarat)

Erastus Radjimin is a second-generation hotelier doing things his own way. (The Peak Photo/Michael Marcus Hutabarat)

Erastus says the hospitality business is all about hands-on experience.

“My first business trip was when I was 10 years old. I went on a trip with my father to Italy to choose the right marble for our hotel in Surabaya,” he recalls. “Before that, I even attended meetings with a few banks when my father gave his presentation for a loan. I just sat there listening to everything and funnily I took pleasure in the whole process.”

When he was 19, he took his first internship at the Waikiki Marriott Beach Resort and Spa because he wanted to spend a paid summer holiday in Hawaii.

“I was very young, I thought when else could I go on a free vacation to Hawaii?” he says with a burst of laughter.

Upon his graduation from Boston University, he moved to London to work for Marriott Hotels International for a year. Following his stint in London, he packed his bags and headed to the Marriott office in Singapore. It was a position Erastus took with open arms because it brought him one step closer to his dream.

“I’m glad that I started as a bellboy in Hawaii so I understood completely what I needed to do when I built my own hotel,” he says.

For Erastus, service is his biggest concern at Artotel because great service is what makes a stay memorable in the customer’s mind.

“I want people with great social skills to work for Artotel because I need them to be the face of my company. For people in the hospitality business, the ability to make people happy is what counts.”

To find such people, Erastus held a walk-in interview with a style mimicking an American Idol contest. He asked hopeful employees to put themselves out there and charm the judges with their skills, be it singing or dancing, as long as it showcased their ability to entertain. Erastus believes that his creative concept for recruiting staff was a good indicator to determine how comfortable employees were in front of strangers.

Moreover, Erastus believes that working in the hospitality business means never being too proud to apologize.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re right or wrong. When your customer is upset, apologize first for making them upset and ask how you can help them. That’s the first thing you have in mind when you’re setting up a business in pleasing people,” he says.

Internet invasion

One of Erastus’s biggest passions, aside from building his brand of hotels, is social networking. The young hotelier says that in the era of Instagram, business people can rely on the power of word of mouth.

“I like Instagram a lot. With a single picture, news about my hotel can travel the world within seconds,” he says.
Erastus actually primed his hotel to be ready for avid Instagramers to snap pictures. When he was designing it, he made sure to create a few Instagram-ready spots around the cafe, lobby and rooms.

“For example, we ordered special toiletries with illustrations on them so people can snap a picture and post it online.”

Each bedroom in Artotel is adorned with murals and paintings and each level is dedicated to one particular artist. The beds on level four, for instance, feature custom-painted headboards by Oky Rey Montha. Erastus proudly adds that, “one of the best spots for Instagram is that painting at the restaurant wall and ceiling by Eddie Hara. You just click #artotel and it’s all out there.”

Next-generation hotelier

Being a young entrepreneur, Erastus is well equipped with wisdom from his family background along with the power of technology. He says the difference between him and his father is in their style of leadership.

Not interested in micro-managing his staff, Erastus believes in giving his employees freedom.

“I think we only have to set up boundaries and then let our employees do their job. I don’t care that my waiter is covered in tattoos and piercings as long as he does his job well,” he says.

When he starts talking more on the topic of technology, he says, “The Internet is a beautiful thing. Nowadays, nobody books hotels through a phone call anymore. Everything is done online that’s why I created a very good and easy-to-navigate website before I opened my hotel. Up to 90 percent of bookings comes through our website.”

With two hotels under his belt, Erastus has plans to open another in Sanur, Bali, and one in Bekasi next year, followed by Bandung, Medan and Ambon further down the line.

“Each Artotel is going to be different. The one in Sanur is going to be a resort-style hotel, but that’s all I can share for now,” he says.