Bali hotel development plan stirs controversy

(Benoa Bay)

A controversy over hotel development is brewing in Bali, with a proposed $15-billion project that involves constructing artificial islets for luxury resorts in Benoa Bay sparking what the South China Morning Post is calling “the biggest protest movement seen in Bali for years.”

Amid rising visitor numbers (Bali saw 4 million international tourists last year), the government of the Indonesian province has been seeking development opportunities for years. In 2014, developer Tirta Wahana Bali International announced the reclamation project, which would involve piling up sand and dirt to build about 12 islets covering 1,700 acres.

But locals are not happy with the idea, in spite of potential job creation. Some feel that the tourist hub is already overcrowded. Some are concerned with environmental damage, some worry about how the development will affect the local fishing industry, and some claim that the plans will “desecrate holy sites in the pocket of Hinduism in Muslim-majority Indonesia.” As such, demonstrations against the project have been held almost every week for the past year.

Major branded hotels have been signing deals for Bali in recent years—so many so that occupancy rates have reportedly decreased. The Post also claims that “some popular beaches become increasingly dirty” due to rapid development. 

In spite of the protests, the project has the support of Bali governor I Made Mangku Pastika, who says the bay is currently a muddy, rubbish-strewn area in need of revitalization.

No word yet on what hotels are eyeing those 12 islets, but if developers will have to face significant resistance from locals, they may consider looking elsewhere to build.