Gili IslandsDespite a slew of new developments planned for the Gili Islands off the north west coast of Lombok, industry analyst Bill Barnett of C9 Hotelworks is confident these long-time backpacker escapes will maintain their relaxed character.

Barnett says lack of larger land parcels and high prices are natural control mechanisms, while most of the new projects are small and upmarket, aimed at the affluent Australian and European visitors using the islands to escape from the crowded chaos of modern Bali.

Visitor numbers have also been stable at around 450,000 a year since 2013 but this may change if speculation turns to fact and Garuda starts flying direct from Australia to Lombok.

It’s worth noting that Jetstar tried but failed to make the Australia-Lombok route work – not enough passenger interest – but Barnett believes this is set to change.

One catalyst is the govt-led development of the Mandalika special economic zone (KEK) on Lombok’s south coast, which is aiming for 1500 hotel rooms by the end of 2018, while the nearby airport is also being expanded.

Edwin Darmasetiawan, development director at the Indonesia Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), told Travel Weekly Asia that Pullman, Club Med, Royal Tulip, Marriott and InterContinental are all interested.

“We’d expect the game-changer to be direct flights, just like Krabi in Thailand or Koh Samui,”says Barnett.

From a hotelier’s perspective, Barnett says the three islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air – have been strong performers in recent times.

gili_meno_beach

Beach at Gili Meno

“The trajectory in room demand has been manifested by a sustained five-year compound annual growth rate of 34%.

“What is equally impressive to the hospitality trade has been the strong room rate and occupancy growth in upscale accommodation where year-to-date average rates have eclipsed USD190 with occupancy standing at 76%.”

He estimates 73% of tourists come from Australia and Europe, staying an average of three days with of visitors using Bali as the gateway.

“One clear trend in C9’s market research has been that legacy beach oriented visitors who were attracted to the Sanur area, are now shifting over to the Gilis and onto Lombok in locations such as Sengiggi and the Southern coast.

“Though the Gili Islands much like Thailand’s Koh Samui started out as a backpacker’s destination, it is rapidly evolving higher into the tourism cycle.

“Much of the growth at the upper end is located in Gili Meno. Here a new generation of posh social offerings are newly-opened or under development.”

According to C9 Hotelworks research there are nine new hotel projects under way with a total of 278 keys.

“One notable project that is capturing overseas interest is Australian entrepreneur Greg Meyer’s upcoming BASK Gili Meno which has been designed by noted architect Gary Fell.

“Based on smaller-sized properties, the boutique nature of the marketplace is expected to remain intact, though a push upward in premium products is evident.”

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