BY LUC CITRINOT, ETN SENIOR MANAGING EDITOR ASIA | NOV 19, 2009
He speaks fluently English and Arabic and his clear way of talking makes a difference with some other Indonesians, rather shy when they have to speak in public. Muhammad Zainul Majdi is the current Governor of West Nusa Tenggara and belongs to this new generation of Indonesian politicians who start to give a new impetus to the World’s biggest archipelago. One of Majdi’s objectives is to turn Lombok into a major tourism destination, emulating Bali, its Western neighbour just 90 minutes away by high speed-boat. Lombok has been so far protected from massive tourism development.
But the Muslim-dominant Island has very big ambitions and feels that it has many assets. “We like to say that you can see Bali in Lombok but you cannot see Lombok in Bali”, likes to say the Governor, referring to the cultural diversity on the Island where local Sasak people cohabits since the dawn of age with Balinese communities. Lombok is indeed an interesting mix of culture where Sasak traditional villages are facing Balinese temples and where some local Muslims are praying indifferently in mosques or temples…
Lombok emergence as a tourism destination will be stimulated by the organization of a “Visit Year Lombok-Sumbawa”- due to come in 2012. Promotion just started with the hosting of TIME-Pasar Wisata, Indonesia’s professional incoming travel show, last October. This is the first time ever that Lombok is hosting an international event from this size and we are very happy about the outcome of the show as delegates seem very happy with this choice. We know that we make some mistakes but we will learn for the next edition of Pasar Wisata in 2010,” said Majdi. For the show hosting, the provincial government has given away INR 5 billion, the equivalent of US$ 532,000.
The objective is to boost over the next five years total arrivals from 250,000 to 450,000 foreign travelers. With domestic travelers, NTB hopes to be able then to welcome some 1.3 million visitors in a year. This will be a far outcry from Bali’s own tourist arrivals (over three million per year currently for both domestic and international travelers) but it still means a growth of over 20% per year over the next decade. More advertising, participation at international travel shows such as ITB are now firmly planned.
Major projects should boost arrivals to Lombok over the years to come: the development of a fully integrated resort area in the South of Lombok and the opening of a new airport in Central Lombok, 45 minutes away from the capital city Mataram. The first project was announced two years ago with Dubai-based investor Emaar Properties announcing to invest US$ 600 million to invest into five- and four-star hotels, a shopping mall, recreation areas, golf courses on a 1,200 hectare site. The final project is targeted to host 10,000 luxury villas, eight hotels and two 18-hole golf courses but it faced numerous delays due to the financial crisis, corruption problems and a lack of improvement in infrastructure. The project study has been extended by six months until year-end.
Development is however more advanced for the airport. According to the airport’s managing company Angkasa Pura, new Lombok International Airport should be finished by the first quarter of 2010 but it looks already that the facility will open later in the year as work is still going on the control tower. Once the first phase completed, the new airport will offer capacity for two million passengers while its 2,750 m runway will be able to take large aircraft such as the Airbus A330. “ We will then target new markets such as Australia or Hong Kong. Improving access is essential for our future” tells Lalu Gita Ariadi, Head of West Nusa Tenggara office of tourism. Another important project is the construction of a proper convention center with an investor from Singapore already showing interest.
Local authorities remain however optimistic about the future of the island as a destination. “Lombok gains increasingly fame among foreign travelers. We do still have some problems to find human resources matching international tourists’ expectations. But the future mega- resort in the South will contribute to improve sharply manpower quality,” estimates Awan Aswinabawa, Chairman of the Travel Expo Pasar Wisata. Progress will definitely be judged with the next hosting of Pasar Wisata in October 2010.