Learning From Bali’s Mistakes: Lombok Part II

Photo by Caitlin Hartnett

Photo by Caitlin Hartnett

Lombok: Bali’s Little Sister and Asia’s Latest Tourism Destination: Part II.


This blog post is a follow up to part one of the Mandalika Project in Lombok, Indonesia. The Mandalika Project is headed by the Indonesia Development Tourism Cooperation (ITDC) and is focused on developing South Lombok’s “special economic zone” (SEZ) into a “New Bali” with a concentration on green ecotourism. This SEZ stretches across 7.5km of white, sandy beach from Kuta to Grupuk village. I was initially intrigued to visit Lombok after coming across a YouTube video on The Mandalika Project, touting only positive aspects of the future “green destination.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRjUjCk49go


I decided I needed to investigate further.


 Consequently, I traveled to South Lombok for two months to interview, observe, and study the impact of this project on the local economy. I interviewed a variety of foreign and local stakeholders including educators, investors, and business owners.  Every stakeholder I spoke with provided valuable insight into varying perceptions of the project. However, they all agreed that they do not want Lombok to become the “New Bali”. Bali was once a pristine, untouched piece of paradise that is now notorious for wild nightlife, traffic congestion, and poorly planned western commercial development. The stakeholders I interviewed all agreed that Lombok’s unspoiled nature and authentic culture is what sets it apart from Bali, some even stated that Lombok is Bali 20-30 years ago. One western real estate investor, claims Lombok will never be poorly developed like Bali. “You won’t have another Bali because the government has realized the catastrophe of uncivil planning in Bali has led to being a nightmare getting around. The government here realizes the importance of infrastructure planning here now. Bali had twenty years to develop at a cheap price but land sales here in Lombok have gone up 800% the last ten years.” Therefore, he believes the type of investors drawn to Lombok will be different from Bali. The rapid increase in land price will only permit extremely wealthy investors who are looking to make Lombok a high class destination, to buy land.


If land prices continue to rise, then how will local Indonesians afford to remain in the area? 


The answer remains uncertain, but I spoke with several locals who have been pressured to sell their land to the ITDC in Ujung village, an area within the SEZ. These locals feel the ITDC  just want to benefit themselves and are cheating locals out of fair compensation. As a result, the residents of Ujung village often gather for protests at the ITDC head office. They don’t know where they will resettle and how they will adapt their livelihoods to benefit from future development.


Furthermore, locals fear that Javanese, Balinese and foreign workers will come and take new job opportunities away from them. The initial perception of the locals appeared overall negative.  It seemed like the project was creating more questions than answers and deeply emotional fears of displacement and loss of cultural values. 


I reminded myself  locals are one facet of a complex web of stakeholders who all have an important role to play in this development.  


One western business owner argued  that many Indonesians, especially the younger generation, no longer want the traditional farming and fishing jobs older generations formerly performed. The influx of new businesses offers new opportunities in the tourism industry for Indonesians. These jobs may provide locals with job security, increased wages, and opportunities to obtain management positions. Furthermore, in 2018 a new innovative program known as Sustainable Tourism Education Development (STED) was launched in Lombok. This project receives substantial funding from the Swiss government and was implemented by an independent foundation known as Swiss Contact. The STED project concentrates on the human resource management aspect within sustainable tourism. The director educates and manages ninety local Indonesian teenagers preparing for positions in Lombok’s hospitality and tourism sector. He hopes his preparation and supervision of local Sasak youth in the STED training program will increase their chances of obtaining jobs that arise from the Mandalika Project. He believes; “the Mandalika project will transform the island, but hopefully the development will progress slowly so that STED has enough graduates prepared to enter the hospitality workforce in Lombok.” STED is a necessary entity for alleviating some of the fears locals have about foreigners coming in to take their jobs.


Another organization I came across during my research was Invest Islands. The main objective of the company is to sell land and develop projects. Yet, they believe it's imperative that they also concentrate on Corporate Social Responsibility by organizing educational community outreach projects which teach locals about the importance of environmental sustainability, and how they can use it as a resource to improve their economic livelihoods. I spoke with the marketing advisor and director about Invest Island’s community involvement. She states,“Education is our main priority. It’s the core of everything. We’re currently building a school to implement programs and workshops for locals. We also organize beach cleanups where people get the feeling of working together and collaborating. Teaching locals to produce organic vegetables that are good for their health can teach them how to operate a business and make a livelihood from that. I think that’s very empowering. Again it just comes down to education and consistency.” Organizations like STED and Invest Islands are focusing on building educational and sustainable options for local people to capitalize on the opportunities provided by foreign investment.  


Now you might ask, what is the most effective solution for inclusive tourism development in Lombok? 


Unfortunately, it is a complex issue which may never have a perfect win-win solution for all. What we do know is that western stakeholders need to be aware of their roles in modern tourism transformation. It is critical for foreign investors to approach new cultures in the way that STED and Invest Islands has; finding ways for the locals to adapt to modernization while complimenting and preserving the local customs. Understanding the fears from locals, working with the people to mitigate issues, and compromising to create positive solutions for all parties is imperative to the success of the project.  All stakeholders have a mutual goal of preventing Lombok from falling victim to the same modernization trap as Bali. The Mandalika Project has a unique opportunity to set the stage for positive modernization and development while creating a harmonious balance of local culture and preservation. In order for this project to succeed, both locals and foreign investors, must openly communicate, adapt, and make an effort to understand the issues and demands of all stakeholders involved. If this does not happen, Mandalika could easily fall victim to the same wave of ignorance that has forever changed Bali.