The Jakarta Aquarium, currently under construction in Podomoro City, hopes to connect an increasingly urban population with the extraordinary biodiversity of the Indonesian seas.

Blooloop spoke to Hans Manansang, a director of Taman Safari Indonesia and a grandson of the group’s founder.

By Thibault Paquin of Celebrating Life Asia, a total destination building company specialising in Asian markets.

Tell us about Taman Safari Indonesia and your own role.

My grandfather, an immigrant from China, started Taman Safari Indonesia (TSI) 40 years ago. He was an acrobat and started his own very small circus company, which soon became Indonesia’s biggest circus company. He was a true animal lover and entertainer, which is why he established the group’s first safari park in Bogor in 1980 to provide a place for animal conservation and for families to spend time together outside of the big city of Jakarta.

Ten years later, his three sons (my father and my two uncles) built the group’s second safari park in Prigen, East Java. ten years later it was our turn (me and my eight cousins) to build the group’s third safari park in Bali, which opened in 2007.

Last year we decided to plan the next phase of development for the group. We worked with consultants to put together a development plan, which will establish Taman Safari as Indonesia’s leading aquarium, zoo and safari park operator, recognised for the quality of its conservation and education programmes.

The 3rd generation of the family, including myself, is working towards this objective while we have hired a professional team to run the existing business.

How does the Jakarta Aquarium fit in the development plan?

Based on industry trends and socio-economic evolutions in Indonesia we have identified two main areas of growth for TSI. One is to reinforce our existing ‘destinations’ and develop further getaway destinations to the growing urban population; the other is to roll out indoor attractions in urban centres. This is where the Jakarta Aquarium fits.

How did this project start?

This project came to us as an opportunity. The previous partner was not able to go through with the project so we were approached. We immediately liked the location and business model and so we took over the project. We didn’t know much about aquariums but we have been involved with animals for 40 years so we figured we should be able to pull this one off.

Jakarta's New Generation Boutique Aquarium

Tell us about the beginnings of the project, the design, etc.

We worked together with our consultants – Celebrating Life – to understand better the market potential. First we established a preliminary brief and then we met various turn-key aquarium designers. We realized we had to take a different approach if we wanted to build something unique for our market.

So, we decided to pull together some of the best talents from different horizons (James Peterson, Jon Coe, Judy Rand, Peter Wilson and Oceanis), put them in a room and ask them to imagine a ‘new generation’ boutique aquarium.

The outcome was a very rich and inspiring document, which became our ‘bible’, clearly defining what the Jakarta Aquarium is and which we are still following to this date.

What is so special about the design?

The design was inspired by the rich heritage of TSI, and our values of conservation and education. Furthermore, the amazing biodiversity of Indonesian seas and the need for ‘escapism’ from a growing urban population in Jakarta helped us come up with a storyline around the Depth of Indonesia. This describes both the unique interactive and learning experience as well as the focus on Indonesia’s islands and waters.

In addition to some very well curated tanks showing the great biodiversity of Indonesia’s marine life we will introduce elements you would not necessarily expect in an aquarium. These will include art installations, a kids play area and a signature live cultural show. We believe this will be a huge hit. Our design team has been working hard on addressing the needs of a new generation of aquarium visitors. They are taking into account the ‘plurals’ (kids born with a mobile device). This demographic demands an interactive, multi-dimensional, and largely self-guided experience.

What are the challenges you face with this project?

The aquarium occupies 7, 000sqm of space in the basement of a mall extension under construction. Therefore we have had to make it fit with the many constraints related to access, loading factors, water supply, etc. But the mall owner – Agung Podomoro – has been very understanding and is very supportive of the project, which will position Podomoro City as the must-go place for all Jakarta residents and tourists.

Who are you targeting for the Jakarta Aquarium?

The vast majority of our visitors will be families from Jakarta and more specifically from North and West Jakarta. There is a huge middle / upper middle class living there. As Jakarta’s only aquarium (SeaWorld shut down recently) offering great education programmes, second would be school groups. And third would be tourists to Jakarta. Jakarta gets over 30 million domestic tourists yearly. We intend to position Jakarta Aquarium as one of the top 3 ‘things-to-do’ for tourists in Jakarta.

The price of attractions and parks are still quite low in Indonesia; with such a big investment how do you plan to provide returns for TSI?

As part of a huge development with foot traffic expected to exceed 5 million a month, the aquarium is probably in the best location in Jakarta . The aquarium should attract 1 million visitors p.a. at the aquarium, which allows us to charge around USD10 and still get good returns. We have also worked on maximising additional revenues. Our retail store and 4D theatre will be with direct access and frontage to the mall. We are also developing a penguin-themed restaurant with one of Indonesia’s most popular chefs, which will become one of the most thought-after restaurants in the mall.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

We are very excited to venture out of the safari park business. Our aim is to bring the Indonesian people a great edutainment experience. We hope it will be the first of many!

Images kind courtesy Taman Safari Indonesia