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PHOTO: The Fairmont Sanur Beach Resort is located on the beach where Balinese tourism began. (Courtesy of Fairmont Sanur Beach Resort)
The first Western impressions of the islands we call Indonesia today inspired Jonathon Swift to write “Gulliver’s’ Travels.” Dutch sailors returned to Europe with tales, often embellished, of thousands of islands each containing completely separate cultures. Out of these stories he created the divergent islands in his classic.
Modern tourism to Indonesia began at Sanur Beach on the island of Bali. Originally a fishing village, Sanur started to evolve in the 1920s into a bohemian community and later, a preferred holiday destination of socialites, celebrities and royalty. Bali really took off when James Michener included an idyllic island of Bali in his Tales of the South Pacific.
Of course, that island was located thousands of miles away, but the traveling public latched onto the notion of a heavenly island of Bali and misconstrued the two. The Indonesian Bali was paradisiacal enough to stand in.
Things have certainly changed. These days Bali vies with the Thai island of Phuket for the title of top vacation island in Southeast Asia. Despite efforts by Indonesian tourism officials to highlight its many other islands, developers continue to add to Bali’s hotel inventory. This year Indonesia for the first time became the top destination for Australian tourists overtaking New Zealand.
Though Americans may think of Bali as an exotic long-haul destination known for its sensual brand of Hinduism, its proximity to powerful source markets in Asia and Australia has increasingly reinforced its identity as a beach destination despite efforts by Balinese Hindu leaders and environmentalists to dial back tourism and preserve the island’s cultural heritage. The Indonesian Hindu Association hopes to stop plans by the Indonesian government to develop tourism sites around the Besakih temple and the volcanic Mount Agung.
While Balinese Hindus see Mount Agung as the center of creation, developers continue to see Bali as the center of Indonesian tourism. “Moving into 2015, Bali is looking at a mass-market strategy backed by the Indonesian government announcing visa waivers for five countries – China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and Australia,” said C9 Hotelworks Managing Director Bill Barnett. “It’s a pointed market pivot as it recognizes the potential of both the island’s core business and the leading emerging markets. At mid-year 2014, over 90 percent of visitors to Bali came from Asia Pacific source markets.”
Fairmont is the latest big brand to plant their footprint the sand at Sanur Beach. The Fairmont Sanur Beach Bali, a 120 all-suite-and-villa resort situated along the southeastern shore of the island was formerly the Regent Bali, a Condé Nast Traveler’s 2014 Hot List property. The resort joins Fairmont just as the chain readies to open the Fairmont Jakarta in 2015, and a second Fairmont property in Bali in 2016.
According to Barnett “there is an expanding halo effect from the existing critical mass of destination visitors and recently improved infrastructure that is now expanding into Lombok, the Gili Islands, Sumba and Flores. Not only is tourism seeing expanded demand in these areas, but property developers are starting to recognize that opportunities are on the rise to tap into a Greater Bali economic picture.”
In 2011, the new Lombok International Airport replaced Selaparang Airport, which had been the main gateway into Lombok. Lombok’s emergence as an alternative to Bali is driving growth in the island’s room inventory, which is expected to double to 4,500 rooms by 2022. The island of Sumba, 250 miles southeast of Bali and twice its size, is also adding hotels.
Two Americans, Claude and Petra Graves created the Nihiwatu Resort (pictured below) with a desire to protect Sumbanese culture through The Sumba Foundation. The resort was then acquired by hotelier James McBride, the former president of YTL Hotels and brand building entrepreneur Chris Burch in 2012.
Nihiwatu has 21 villas built from thatch and wood. The resort sits on 580 acres of land (only 10 percent of which is developed) and one and half miles of beach. The majority of the grounds were left in their wild natural state. Terraced villas, bar and restaurant pavilions, boathouse and jungle spa give the resort a feel of rustic luxury. The villas overlook a sweeping bay on the Indian Ocean. All have sand-floored bathrooms and private pools. The emphasis is on open plan living that reflects the simplicity and beauty of Sumbanese architecture.
The mile-and-a-half-long beach is bracketed by two rocky headlands and fronts one of the world’s great surfing waves that delivers left-folding tubes (and the surfers inside) to within a hundred yards of the resort’s boathouse; and Nio Beach Bar. Besides world-class surfing, the resort offers sport fishing, hiking through dramatic waterfalls, ancient villages and butterfly trails, stand-up paddling down the Wanukaka River and spa treatments by the beach.
PHOTO: Indonesia’s roaring economy is driving new hotel creation in Jakarta like this DoubleTree by Hilton. (Courtesy of DoubleTree by Hilton)
Business travelers are also driving hotel growth in the nation’s capital of Jakarta. Indonesia is a major economic power and a member of the G20. In June, Hilton opened the first DoubleTree by Hilton in Jakarta. DoubleTree by Hilton is Hilton’s fastest growing brand. The 253-room hotel offers three F&B outlets, an outdoor pool and more. The hotel is located about three miles from Jakarta’s Central Business District in an area popular with multinational companies, embassies, government offices as well as shopping, dining and entertainment landmarks such as Plaza Indonesia and Grand Indonesia.
The Regent Jakarta, a luxury hotel and residential project, will open in early 2018. The new property will be a mixed-use development that’s comprised of a hotel with 126 guestrooms and suites, 107 exclusive residences, dining, and meeting facilities within Mangkuluhur City.