Thursday, January 20, 2011

Indonesia Seeks Bali Success Once Again in Lombok

Traffic jams are now common in Bali, a victim of its own success in pulling in swarms of tourists and using the money to buy cars and turn rice paddies into hotels.

Across a narrow sea channel lies Lombok, another volcanic island ringed by beaches, where in the capital Mataram the few foreign visitors are more likely to be slowed down by a horse-drawn cart than a tailback of Toyotas.

But authorities in Indonesia, a current emerging market investor darling, have big plans for the island.

A new international airport is expected to open later this year, and Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund is leading a bidding race to develop an unspoilt southern coastline of white sand into a world class resort and luxury residential community.

Indonesia hopes such projects will overhaul its poor infrastructure, seen as both a hurdle to growth and a cash making opportunity, with Asia showing the most investment interest in a sign of new money flows between emerging markets.

Lombok’s leading exclusive development so far, Indian-owned The Oberoi, an isolated and expansive resort of manicured lawns and infinity pools facing Bali, was chosen as the venue for a meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers this week.

“We brought the ministers here to show them how unspoilt it is ... and the opportunities,” Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told Reuters on a stroll through the grounds.

Lombok’s culture is not as obviously rich as Bali’s, lacking its famous dances or unique brand of Hinduism, while Bali has learnt over centuries what foreigners look for and still-smiling locals are multilingual.

By contrast Lombok’s interior offers a tough hike up active volcano Mount Rinjani and some hard stares.

“People come to Bali for the culture, not the view — the view is better in the Maldives. Here in Lombok it’s nature,” said Widi, from Bali and working at the Sheraton on Senggigi, currently the only developed strip of beach on Lombok, but where an empty coastal road divides surfers and boutique villas from thatched shacks and green mountain humps.

Hotels in Lombok

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