The secret is out on Bali’s captivating charms. Its stunning beaches, scenic rice paddies and deep sense of spirituality drew nearly 5 million foreign visitors in 2016, up a million from the year prior, according to the Bali Government Tourism Office.
But even as the island becomes more and more popular, Indonesia’s tourism hub has honed delivering a luxurious experience without losing its culture. This captured the attention of a number of companies — Capella, Langham, Mandarin Oriental, Starwood’s Luxury Collection, Trump and Waldorf Astoria all plan to open hotels in Bali in the next couple of years.
This one-of-a-kind travel experience is a big reason why Bali surfaced as a new luxury leader in our 2017 Forbes Travel Guide Star Awards, which we announced on February 22. It marks the first time we have rated the destination.
Bali debuted on our 59th annual list with an impressive trio of Five-Star hotels: Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay, Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan and The Villas at Ayana Resort Bali. Ten Four-Star hotels, three Recommended hotels and five Four-Star spas also premiered.
Properties in Bali scored notably well in Forbes Travel Guide’s classifications of graciousness, thoughtfulness and sense of personalized service, mostly outperforming their global counterparts. These areas involve intuition, the ability of staff to read guests, think ahead and anticipate their needs.
Our incognito inspectors also noted that Bali’s hotels thoroughly embrace a sense of place in all they do. For example, at Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Amandari, a small carved animal made in a local village arrived as a turndown amenity. The card accompanying the figurine said, “I promise to be silent if you will take me home with you. Some of my friends may call out in the morning, so I’ll do my best to keep them crowing far away while you sleep in.” It’s a gracious way to warn guests about the 4 a.m. rooster wake-up call but also enforces that it’s part of the Bali experience.
“It is a big island and even though there are more luxury hotels than ever before, there are also places that very few people get to, and this is what we at Four Seasons encourage guests to do,” says Uday Rao, general manager of both Bali properties. “Luxury travel can and should embrace the destination and encourage guests to explore and discover, rather than create a bubble that leaves guests wondering where they are.”
“The sense of place and discovery that we offer today is part of our evolution as a luxury resort — it’s not all about the hardware but much more so about the experience and the people you connect with, how they made you feel,” he says. “That’s why it is wonderful to see the Forbes Travel Guide ratings reaffirm the importance of authentic experiences and genuine Balinese service with the 2017 ratings.”
Warm Balinese Hospitality
For Rao, it’s about the people. “The Balinese have a natural warmth and open culture that welcomes travelers from around the world. In Bali, you don’t just watch a ceremony, you are welcome to join in if you like,” Rao says. “Bali is as deep and immersive as you are ready to go.”
“And the hospitality is similar — visitors make lifelong connections here because their waiter invites them to his home for a meal with his family, or their driver takes them to a temple ceremony. Bali is the true essence of tolerance and openness for all, and that shines in every interaction,” he says.
Clive Edwards, general manager of The Villas at Ayana Resort Bali and the larger integrated Ayana Resort and Spa Bali, says Balinese-style hospitality comes from customs. “Bali is steeped in culture and guests new to the island will instantly feel the warm and genuine nature of the Balinese people. This wholehearted approach, coupled with the right training and support, makes Balinese hospitality among the world’s best,” he says.
What’s Hot In Bali
Marco Groten, general manager of chic eco-luxe hotel Alila Villas Uluwatu, reports that luxury travelers are embarking on leisure trips with curated five- to six-day itineraries. “This trend is inspiring high-end resorts to create experiences that are indigenous, less commercial, local and secluded,” Groten says. “Bali presents such diversity within the hospitality segments, catering to travelers’ many varied desires. Whether they are after cultural and spiritual experiences, recreational activities, fine cuisine or adrenaline sports, Bali is able to produce personalized experiences for each and every individual.”
At the Four Seasons hotels, Rao sees yoga and wellness as in-demand attractions for Bali travelers, as is the food scene, which has become more sophisticated. He says Jimbaran Bay will go back to its roots with the launch of Ganesha Cultural Centre, offering workshops with local artists, while Sundara beach club is the modern face of the resort. In Sayan, experiences center around the spirituality and natural energy of the river valley.
Echoing a global trend, Edwards says that experiential travel is becoming increasingly popular. At Ayana, you can take a traditional Balinese cooking lesson at Rimba Jimbaran Bali’s cooking school or experience a two-hour treatment at the resort’s Thermes Marins Spa.
Since Bali is known to be a wedding paradise, Edwards says that they are continually experiencing more couples coming to the island to get married. Minimoons and Babymoons are also a growing hot hospitality trend.
For Alila Villas Uluwatu, The Cliff will open in late 2017. Featuring 56 luxurious one- and two-bedroom suites atop the cliff’s edge next to Alila, it will have its own reception, concierge and resort facilities plus the world’s first Omnia Dayclub and Japanese restaurant Sake No Hana, managed by Hakkasan.
This year, Ayana will see the addition of its first beach club, whose glass inclinator will transport guests from the clifftop to the white sands of Kubu Beach (saving them from a nearly 200-step trek). It also will upgrade its wedding options: after a renovation, Tresna Chapel will reopen as an air-conditioned ocean-view venue, while the new wedding deck at Ayana Villa will give brides and grooms a floating walkway where they can exchange vows above the Indian Ocean.
Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay will wrap up a renovation of its 147 villas by May. The crown jewels will be the revamped three-bedroom Imperial and two-bedroom Royal Villas. Sister property Sayan will launch a new cooking school and a beautiful bridge to enable guests to cross to the other side of the valley and explore the area.
This week, we revealed our 2017 Forbes Travel Guide Star Ratings. Click here to see the complete list of winners.