Inside Bali’s Recent Hotel Boom
Bali — a synonym for the exotic, romantic and, of course, bestseller Eat, Pray, Love — is undergoing an unprecedented hotel boom from an international array of companies. In 2015 alone, 25 new hotels opened on the Indonesian island, including nine 5-star, 11 4-star and five 3-star hotels, according to global real estate firm Colliers International Indonesia. "If seen from the growth of hotel room numbers, the greatest growth is demonstrated by 5-star hotels at 14.46%,” said Ferry Salanto, its associate director of research. In the first quarter of 2017, six new hotels opened, and between now and 2019, 17,681 more hotel rooms are expected, an increase of 31%.
Last year broke the record for tourist arrivals: 4.9 million, a 23% increase over 2015. While Australians still represent the largest proportion of foreign tourists to Bali, mainland China visitors are expected to surpass those from Down Under in 2017. There’s no end in sight for the hotel building boom, which mainly consists of smaller hotels of 100 rooms or less so far. Some take inspiration from Bali’s rich artistic heritage, with different villages specializing in making one craft — wood carvings, silver jewelry or masks — or nightly dance and music performances like the graceful Legong or the bizarre Kecak that take place in Ubud, Bali’s cultural capital, or at waterside temples like Pura Luhur Uluwatu.
Even Japan’s Hoshino Resorts, a luxury ryokan chain, has entered Bali recently with its second hotel outside Japan. In January, Hoshinoya Bali, 30 thatch-roof villas built around three pools that run the length of the property, opened in the lush rainforest surrounding Ubud. Intricate carvings by local craftsmen adorn its walls and furnishings, while sacred canals in an ancient UNESCO-designated water network course through the resort.
Bisma Eight, a boutique hotel in Ubud, wanted guests to rest their eyes from Bali’s extreme ornateness so its 38 suites have unadorned concrete walls and floors, big, open spaces to work or relax (the smallest suite is 550 square feet), Japanese-style cedar soaking bathtubs and carved wood screens dividing the living area from the bathroom.
"Ubud is a hub for digital nomads, and Millennials and Gen X expect different things from hotels. We wanted our hotel to be about experiences and community. More design-driven and authentic, ornate Bali style is not for us — we chose concrete for a clean look and simple decor with some subtle touches,” said Bisma Eight co-owner Sunil Alwani, whose Jakarta-based family owns the two-year-old hotel and is planning to open an all-villa hotel on the same road. His hotel offers classes in cooking, mocktail-making, kite-making and Balinese dance and its rooftop terrace often hosts events like artisan fairs.
Melia International, the huge Spanish chain with a terrific, undervalued rewards program, added a hotel to its affordable beachfront resort brand for fun-lovers, Sol by Melia, in Legian, just north of Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS) in Denpasar, in February. Sol House Bali Legian offers a Twitter-based concierge service (so you can you tweet your requests), 24-hour cocktail service, graffiti art by a local street artist and a rooftop with top DJs and oversized Jacuzzis.
“Since we are located right at the heart of Bali’s party district, guests have direct access to the area’s main social hubs including Seminyak, Canggu, and Kuta, and the hotel is just a short walk away from the tropical Legian beach with its world-famous surf breaks,” said general manager Marta Escribano of the 136-room hotel, whose slogan promises “the party never stops.” One of the first foreign chains on Bali, Melia opened Melia Bali Garden Villas way back in 1985 as its first hotel outside Spain.
Ritz-Carlton opened two hotels in 2015: The Ritz-Carlton, Bali, a resort of 313 suites and 16 one- to three-bedroom villas, each with a butler, driver, personal wellness expert and shopper — plus a glass elevator from clifftop to beach and six restaurants — is in Nusa Dua, a luxury tourist enclave in Bali's Bukit Peninsula. Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, is a 60-villa resort tucked inside the lush rainforest that surrounds Ubud.
Two Four Seasons properties have also gotten a refresh. The Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay just ended a major two-year renovation in which all 147 villas were modernized with new furnishings, décor, thatched roofs, wood floors and redesigned to maximize ocean and sunset views. An oceanfront venue for spa treatments and yoga was added, as were classes in heli-surfing — where you fly to a famous surf spot on Java by helicopter — weaving, painting and wood-carving. The Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan, located in the hills around Ubud, also added new activities, ranging from a Sacred Nap (you’re rocked to sleep, suspended in a silk hammock from a bamboo pavilion in the jungle, by a former Buddhist nun), hot stone yoga to off-the-beaten-track bicycling.
Starwood is greatly expanding its presence in Bali as well, which already included a St. Regis Bali and The Laguna, A Luxury Collection Resort & Spa (both in Nusa Dua), W Bali-Seminyak, and Le Méridien Bali Jimbaran, among others. The Westin Resort Nusa Dua, Bali, opened in December 2016, and the Element Bali Ubud is expected to open this December. Two Aloft hotels — one in Seminyak, the other in Ubud just steps from the Monkey Forest — and the Four Points By Sheraton Ubud are expected to open in 2018.
Capella Hotels Group notes not one tree was cut during the construction of Capella Ubud, a resort of 22 ultra-luxury tent suites, all with private saltwater pools, a tented spa and a gym, slated to open in early 2018 in Ubud’s rainforest.
Hilton is also beefing up its portfolio — its Waldorf Astoria brand’s clifftop resort of 96 one- to six-bedroom villas with two restaurants and a wedding chapel on the Bukit Peninsula, just five miles from the airport, is slated to open in late-2018. The Conrad Bali and the Hilton Bali Resort are already operating in Nusa Dua.
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