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

Photo by Caitlin Hartnett

Photo by Caitlin Hartnett

Look out Bali, Lombok, the popular tourist destination’s neighboring island, is slated to become Asia’s new tourism hotspot. The new Indonesian-Government mandated “Mandalika Project” will aim at building tourism infrastructure and bringing development to the island, but at what cost? This two-part blog series will look into how tourism has already changed the face of Indonesia as well as what can be expected in terms of future changes to the economic and community aspects of Lombok.

Part I.

Over the past few decades, tourism has grown into one of the largest economic sectors in the world. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, in 2018 the tourism sector grew 3.9%, contributing to 10.4% of world GDP and representing one in ten jobs globally (WTTC, 2018). By 2030, the United Nations World Tourism Organization predicts that international travel will increase to 1.8 billion arrivals per year. Tourism also plays a fundamental role in international commerce and has become a vital source of income for many developing countries as well. Promotion, branding, development and effective management among various stakeholders are all clever tactics in keeping destinations competitive and unique.


Indonesia has one of the most biodiverse habitats in the world, known for its rich culture and abundance of nature. Furthermore, Indonesia is now the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia thanks to its strides in "innovation" and "business sophistication", setting it apart from the rest. In 2017, the World Economic Forum Tourism and Travel Competitiveness Report ranked Indonesia #14 for natural resources and #23 for cultural resources and business travel ranked out of 136 countries (World Bank Report, 2018).  Yet, even with the tourism slogan “Wonderful Indonesia”, the country still lags behind many other Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore in terms of international visitors (Indonesia Investments). When compared to other Southeast Asian countries, Indonesia is unfortunately infamous for its lack of emphasis on environmental sustainability (ranking #131), infrastructure, safety and security (World Bank Report, 2018).


Consequently in May 2018, The Government of Indonesia (GOI), devised and launched the Indonesia Tourism Development Priority Program to accelerate tourism development (IPDP, 2018). The aim of this program is to utilize designated tourism destinations in Indonesia as areas to attract private investment, strengthen the relationship between the local economy and tourism and increase the quality of and access to tourism-relevant infrastructure and services (The World Bank Report, 2018). For the past century, Bali has been notorious for being the most popular island hot spot in Indonesia as well as one of the top tourist destinations in the world for travelers. Yet, over the years many Indonesians and foreigners have come to believe that Bali has been "ruined by tourism" and has even lost all its authenticity due to the environmental and cultural degradation (Conell, 1993).



 A lesser known island to the east of Bali is Lombok, often referred to as "Bali's sister island" is now the key focus of the tourism development priority program. The GOI has since selected the Mandalika area in Lombok to be considered a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). The government’s vision is to make Mandalika a new tourism destination focused on “sustainable energy” and “green technology” while protecting its local culture, natural environment and picturesque attractions in the area (IPDP, 2018). Vital infrastructure for the future of Mandalika’s tourism prospects has been proposed to be developed in two phases: Phase-I (2019-23) and Phase-II (2024-26) (IPDP, 2018). The GOI has appointed the Bali Tourism Development Corporation (BTDC- a state run enterprise) to control and lead the development operations. However, there are some complications. The Mandalika SEZ will impact the native Sasak communities near the site, including four villages in the Pujut District with an estimated total of 11,050 households and 32,857 Sasak people on 6,412 hectares of land (25 square miles) (IPDP, 2018). The Sasak are an ethnic group with their own defined language, culture and strong sense of identity bolstered by a unified practice of Islam (IPDP, 2018). Since August 2018, 1,164 hectares (equaling 92% of the land used by the Mandalika Project) has been acquired by the Indonesia Development Tourism Corporation (ITDC). The remaining 8% still belongs to individuals or is tied up in court cases (Friedberg and Hilderbrand, 2017). The ITDC is still working to purchase land from the current owners, although the project implementation has already begun (Friedberg and Hilderbrand, 2017).


What does this all mean for Lombok and it’s local inhabitants now that the project is approved and underway? Stay tuned next week for part II of this blog, which will cover my observations as a Masters student carrying out field work in Lombok. I will provide my insights through my interviews and interactions with international and local business owners as well as local youths about the prospects of development and how the Mandalika tourism project will change the future of the island’s culture both economically and culturally.