New Zealand Herald
Sunday, July 27, 2008

Indonesia: Facing the future


photo: The pool at the Novotel Lombok is surrounded by a
collection of thatched huts, built in the style of traditional
Sasak houses. AAP

Their most famous beaches may share a name - Kuta - but to date,
the Indonesian destinations of Bali and Lombok have been worlds

Bali is the tourist mecca, filled with resorts, bars and
markets; whereas Lombok is largely unspoilt, relying more on its
natural charms to attract mostly surfers, and short-term
visitors from Bali.

But the recent announcement that a United Arab Emirates
developer has US$60 million ($77 million) to spend, Lombok may
be in for something of a tourist boom.

The new development by Emaar Properties will include a 7km
waterfront stretch of five-star resorts, luxury residences, a
marina, golf course and shops. It's a long-term project, with
the first hotel guests not expected for several years.

In the meantime, work has already begun on a US$72 million
international airport, close to the town of Praya, about 30km
south of the existing Salaparang airport. It's expected to open
in 2010 and locals believe that it will be the key to making
Lombok a primary tourist destination, rather than just an add-on
to a holiday in Bali.

Development is inevitable, says Dominique Duvivier, general
manager of Accor's Novotel Lombok, one of the island's only
existing high-end hotels. "Bali is too crowded so they need to
find a plan B."

The trick, though, will be making sure any development doesn't
detract from Lombok's natural beauty - currently its biggest
tourist attraction.

Emaar Properties chairman Mohamed Ali Alabbar says the new
developments set on Kuta and Tanjung beaches, will be
environmentally friendly, integrating natural elements into a
residential, leisure and hospitality zone.

Duvivier too is confident Lombok can retain its own unique
character. "We are far better in terms of beach here. Lombok
will grow, little by little, yes, but not like Bali. I've worked
in many areas and this one is totally magical."

Although the island is often described as resembling Bali 20
years ago, Duvivier disagrees. "In Bali, Kuta 20 years ago was
still developed. It's more than 20 years ago, I would say even
30 to 40."

Once you get out around the island and into local villages, you
see his point. Here, villages are really one big family of about
700 people living in clusters of thatched houses.

For the Sasak people here traditions continue. Although some
villages take fees from tour groups who pass through, farming is
still the key to their survival. And traditional weaving of
multi-coloured fabrics remains a very important skill for girls,
and is passed down from mothers to daughters.

In some ways, though, modern technology has intruded. Cellphones
are everywhere, and have radically changed one crucial tradition.

As our guide Anaf explains: "It's our tradition, that if you
like a girl you have to 'kidnap' her." In times gone by that
meant daughters were kept safe upstairs where they were harder
to get to.

"These days it's just a matter of a few texts and she's
downstairs waiting for her beau."