Dan F Stapleton August 11, 2017
The Indonesian island being hailed as “the new Bali” boasts pristine beaches, vast tracts of lush forest and a modern international airport. British and Australian expats — incentivised by low land prices and encouraged by the regional government — are developing an array of upmarket hotels and private villas here. Yet Lombok’s recent history, coupled with growing hostility towards LGBT people across Indonesia, is giving some would-be investors pause for thought. In 2000, Indonesian soldiers evacuated hundreds of tourists from Mataram, Lombok’s main town, to Bali while angry locals burnt buildings associated with Christians and foreigners. The incident — part of a nationwide wave of religious violence in majority-Muslim Indonesia — highlighted the divisions that exist on Lombok between orthodox Muslims and minorities such as Christians and Ahmadiyya Muslims. While there has not been a major incident on Lombok involving western tourists since 2000, experts say tension about “outsiders” has been simmering.
“Lombok is one of the hardline Muslim areas in Indonesia,” says Andreas Harsono, Human Rights Watch’s Indonesia researcher and a founding member of Jakarta’s Alliance of Independent Journalists. “Around 250 Ahmadiyya Muslims still live in a displacement camp there after being evicted from their houses in 2006.” Unlike the majority-Hindu Bali, which has been adapting to tourists and expats for 100 years and is now considered one of Indonesia’s most liberal islands, Lombok locals are still getting to grips with tourism and how it coexists with religious traditions. Before the 1990s, very few foreigners visited the island, says Eric J Levy, founder of Singapore-based hospitality investment firm Tourism Solutions International. Even today, he says, Lombok’s resort and rental villa sector has less than 10 per cent of the rooms that Bali offers, even though the islands are roughly the same size. For some, uncrowded Lombok has reached a sweet spot in its development. “There are numerous prime-land parcels, an almost-new international airport and a road system that is sufficient for the foreseeable future to reach many of the beach areas,” says Levy.