Why is Trump’s new hotel in Bali so controversial? Well, it’s complicated

The iconic Tanah Lot Temple in Bali. Source: Shutterstock

AS with almost everything associated with United States President Donald Trump, his new hotel in Bali is mired in controversy.

The hotel is to be named the Trump International Hotel and Tower Bali and the plan is for the construction to begin in 2018, but whether the project will ever see the light of day is becoming increasingly dubious.

There are many problems connected to the planned development, but why is it so complicated? New hotels spring up on the Island of the Gods in the blink of an eye, but this one in particular seems singled out for special attention.

Development of the hotel is going to focus on the pre-existing Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali Resort which will be renovated and happens to overlook the iconic Pura Tanah Lot, one of Bali’s most famous sea temples which dates from the 16th century.

According to the ebullient Trump International Hotel and Tower website: “Built atop a sheer cliff along a sweeping coastline, the development will offer breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean and Tanah Lot, the most popular tourist and cultural icon of Bali.”

The proximity of the hotel to Tanah Lot Temple, however, is already causing discontent on this devotedly Hindu island. Following local Hindu beliefs, a building should not be taller than a coconut tree, and anything exceeding this height will anger the Hindu gods who are forever casting a watchful eye over property development on the island.

One of the other issues concerning the property is that the Nirwana Resort is about to close imminently for the redevelopment to begin, which means most of the staff will be out of a job.

Current figures suggest 800 staff face unemployment, although some claim number is closer to 1,000. For many Nirwana employees, this is not what was promised when they were first employed at the resort and their ire at the casual lack of job security is understandable.

SEE ALSO: Locals in Bali riled by construction of Trump’s ‘six-star’ resort on sacred site

According to an interview in New Eastern Outlook with a local resident, Ketut, “When Nirwana Bali acquired our lands, we signed agreements that said: with each ‘ownership of land certificate’, the owners will provide two to four jobs to the families of the certificate holders.

“The new owners, Hary (Tanoesoedibjo) and Donald Trump, simply do not intend to honor those agreements anymore. There is obviously nothing we can do about it.”

Another concern connected to the proposed property relates to how much space it is going to consume. Originally, it was slated to sprawl over 106ha,  although Budi Rustanto, vice-president of MNC Land, the group behind the renovation, has confirmed this is going to be increased to 140ha of land.

The locals, however, are not keen on the idea, and many have said they will not sell any of their land to MNC Group which is headed by colorful businessman and politician Hary, popularly known as Hary Tanoe.

Some of their concerns revolve around money matters, and in an interview with ABC News, Nyoman Madya, the head of the Enjung Pura neighborhood affected by the proposed land acquisition bluntly admitted “they couldn’t agree on the price”.

That price, according to local residents, should be IDR500 million (US$37,543) per 100sq m, although MNC Group is reportedly only offering in the region of IDR100 million to 150 million (around US$7,500 to US$11,260). It stands to reason Bali residents feel they are being shortchanged, although they are also at pains to stress it’s not all about the money.

SEE ALSO: Indonesia imposes travel ban on Trump’s business partner

Many locals also have strong emotional and spiritual ties to their land, which in many cases has been in their family for generations and is looked on as inheritance for future generations.

To Tabanan residents, therefore, this land is priceless, a viewpoint echoed by Beraban Village head Made Sumaway, who gave an interview to ABC News: “We talk about the land in Bali, where most of its people are Hindus, the land has a very big meaning for us all.

“Because life is about give and take and that it’s the responsibility of the Hindus, to preserve not only the traditions, but the culture and religion as well.”

It may be true locals genuinely want to keep hold of their land for cultural and religious reasons, although previous hotels presumably also got their land from Balinese residents who mysteriously did not share this moral compulsion. Based on this precedent, one has to wonder if part of their reluctance to sell also comes from the fact they simply don’t like Trump and Hary.

Many Indonesians don’t support Trump’s travel ban, which appears deliberately discriminatory against Muslims and is worrying given the fact  Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation on earth.

Even though the Balinese are predominately Hindu, an Indonesia-wide travel ban would presumably affect all Indonesian nationals. There is no suggestion, though, this is something Balinese landowners need to be concerned about as the travel ban struggles to gain political and legal acceptance in the US.

Local Balinese women going about their prayers along Lake Tamblingan, Tabanan, Bali. Source: Shutterstock/Anges van der Logt


It is also fair to say Trump is heading up the Trump Hotel and Tower Bali in name only, as his position as the 45th President of the United States forbids him from being directly involved in such a business venture.

In an extremely ironic twist, Hary is also facing a travel ban of his own. This, however, was put in place by the Indonesian authorities after he was named a suspect in a case regarding alleged threats made against Indonesia’s Attorney-General’s Office in 2016.

He denies the charges, but continues to have a reputation for heavy-handed business practices and an appetite for political advancement that doesn’t exactly enhance his appeal. With Trump and Hary heading up the project, even if it is in name only, lack of cooperation from the local community is not particularly surprising.

Despite the myriad problems, however, perhaps the most bizarre part of the debacle so far is MNC Group’s insistence all is well with their plans to start work on Trump International Hotel and Tower in 2018.

They also claim the locals are only too keen to sell their land and provided a cheery statement to ABC News to rebuff any rumors of discontent: “Our land acquisition process has not encountered any problems or issues beyond the regular negotiation when dealing with land owners in Bali.”

If you believe MNC Group, despite angered gods, reluctant locals, lost jobs and lack of land, everything at Trump International Hotel and Tower Bali is just fine.