Sinead Kenny

Julian Brownlie – Pioneering in Flores

Sinead Kenny
Julian Brownlie – Pioneering in Flores

“The beauty of the land, the green lush hillsides married to the crystal blue water, that’s what I love the most about Flores.”

That said, Julian admits he actually loves the people of Flores the most, the land and water second. The people have infectious smiles, they are friendly to everyone and just want to help. This community spirit captured Jools’ heart many years ago when he first visited Flores, but little did he know that one day he would return and fall for one very special Flores woman, Megah, who is now his wife.

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Twenty-one years ago Jools came from Sydney to Bali, as Bali was then and still is now, the top holiday spot for many Australians. Jools had just expanded his business, Carphone Warehouse, from London to Sydney and was chasing some time out in Bali. But the story of how he first discovered Flores is far more personal, and to be honest I hesitated to write it, but I do feel it is part of the reason why his love and passion for Flores is so strong.

Jools’ father was very ill but instead of helplessly watching him suffer, the family organised a trip on a phinisi boat called Perentis, and they spent six weeks together cruising around the islands of Flores. During those six weeks, his close-knit family and friends came together to spend quality time on the boat, laughing and celebrating his dad’s fabulous life. It was his dad who suggested to Jools that Flores would be the next big thing and he really should look at investing there. At the time Jools was focusing on his dad and their precious time together, however the seed was planted and I think his dad would be incredibly proud to see what Jools has accomplished in Flores since that conversation took place.

Jools ended up returning to Flores, and eight years ago he bought his first piece of land. It was 1.5 hectares, in the middle of nowhere, but it was the starting point and an important piece of the puzzle. You see, you couldn’t then just walk into Flores and buy land. There was a process and it involves being a part of the village and community. In fact, in order to obtain that first piece of land, part of the deal involved Jools assisting one of the village sons to become a police officer. That might seem slightly unorthodox to anyone outside of Indonesia, but being a part of the community is often the most important part of the land purchase.

Before becoming a part of the community here, Jools would walk around the land and call the first village he came to, ‘Village One.’ For a long time he referred to it as ‘Village One’ until one day he asked Riki, who Jools met in Bali but moved to Flores to manage their village relationships, what the actual name was. The answer, Kampung Satu – which translates to Village One!

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Jools says there really wasn’t much difference between the Flores of 21 years ago compared to 8 years ago, but obviously there are significant changes now. The Government have invested in infrastructure with new roads, an enormous LPG power station, a new hospital, new schools, and a new airport. The marina is also getting a huge face-lift and will have the capacity to fit all of the service and fishing boats, plus more tour boats and even super yachts.

This growth has seen tourism skyrocket and with that comes environmental concerns. Jools and his team are passionate about conservation and education and are working with local groups and the World Bank on a sustainable future for Flores. They have committed to buying a new rubbish truck for the town and are committed to sustainable tourism, so that the beauty of Flores is preserved for years to come.

Flores is attracting a new type of tourist. For years it has been boat-based tourism, with tourists coming from as far as Europe to enjoy the unrivalled diving and island exploration. Now Flores still welcomes these tourists, but also offers those who have ‘done’ Bali and are now looking for something new – a place that offers modern conveniences as well as adventure. Labuan Bajo has Mexican, Italian and Japanese restaurants, sitting alongside awesome local warungs and bars. It has luxury hotels and resorts with backpacker accommodation down the road. There is something for everyone in Flores.

And it’s this excitement and development that keeps Jools and his team busy. They are working on the Alila hotel project and a beach club project in Menjaga on a beach front peninsula at the entrance to the Komodo National Park. They are also working on Central Square, a new offering in Labuan Bajo that will be home to restaurants, bars, co-working spaces, retail, an internationally renowned spa, serviced apartments and more. Aside from this and their Menjaga development, they are now looking inland because the beauty of Flores is not just restricted to the water and islands. The inland areas of Flores have waterfalls, lush jungles, rice terraces and equally as stunning landscapes. Preserving this beauty is Jools’ primary concern, so watch this space for more sustainable business and development.

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Jools believes in community and his love for the Flores people, their strength and spirit is obvious. Just recently he assisted a local primary school with new desks and chairs. The school is a difficult three-hour motorbike ride from Labuan Bajo and many of the students are walking a long way for their education. The Voice of Flores team are heading to meet the students in the next couple of weeks so stay tuned for more.

It’s pioneers like Jools who have the vision to create sustainable tourist models that offer employment, growth and opportunity while preserving the natural beauty. If you would like to get in touch with Jools or any of this team to discuss ideas or development in Flores, please get in touch with us, as we are more than happy to do the introductions.