BALI IS AN AMAZING ISLAND, RICH IN ART AND CULTURE AND INHABITED BY SOME OF THE MOST WELCOMING PEOPLE IN THE WORLD. An added benefit for U.S. visitors is that a majority of Balinese people can communicate in English, since the island has been hosting Australians for decades.
For all of Bali's appeal, there have been some hurdles to overcome in attracting significant numbers of American visitors—even with minimal stops en route, it's a long haul. My flight from Los Angeles included a six-hour layover in Singapore. When all was said and done, it was close to 30 hours of traveling. Was it worth it? Absolutely. But Bali could be a hard sell to time-pressed vacationers with only a week to spare.
Bali also took a hit in the press in 2002 when a terrorist bomb blast killed more than 200 people, many of them vacationing Australians. After a series of travel warnings were issued by several countries, tourism to Bali decreased by 31 percent. Bali is slowly recovering and staging various initiatives to encourage visitors. Thamrin B. Bachri, the country's director general, Ministry of Culture and Tourism, is bullish about the government's upcoming "Visit Indonesia Year 2008" campaign. Throughout the year, the country will stage 100 events and cultural festivals. It's hoped that the campaign also will stimulate improvements to the country's tourism infrastructure. At September's PATA Travel Mart 2007, held in Bali's Nusa Dua area, Emirsyah Satar, president and CEO of Garuda Indonesia, noted that the airline is looking at possibilities on the West Coast of the U.S.—most likely Los Angeles or San Francisco.
While Bali's strongest markets in the U.S. are dive and surfing, there are numerous opportunities for the upscale leisure traveler. Resorts such as the Four Seasons and COMO Shambhala Estate provide top-flight service away from crowded tourist centers.
Three Hotels to Pitch
The most difficult times to book rooms in Bali are from July 21 to August 20 and December 27 to January 4. Reserve three months ahead during these peak periods, and at least 30 days ahead the rest of the year.
Nusa Dua is a beachfront gated enclave with a selection of large tourist hotels, shops, restaurants and a championship golf course. It's also the site of the country's major conference center, which is at the Westin Resort Nusa Dua (www.westin.com/bali). This makes the 355-room resort an excellent choice for those attending a trade event at the conference center. An added plus: It's only six miles from Ngurah Rai International Airport.
Given their proximity to the beach, the most requested premium accommodations at the Westin are the Ocean View Suites with private pool. But the 28 Royal Beach Club rooms and 20 suites constitute the premier categories. These are in a separate wing and offer a higher level of personal service and preferential treatment, including complimentary airport transfers and swift registration in the Royal Beach Club Lounge. The club staff also provides unpacking, laundry and pressing services.
For families, suggest booking one of the Westin's two-bedroom units with a king-size Heavenly Bed in one room and three twin-size beds in the second room. Each room has a pool view and private balcony.
The resort's spa has five treatment rooms, two for couples. One of these is a couple's outdoor massage bale (a bale is an open-air pavilion or elevated platform, sheltered by a roof and supported by pillars). Book treatments ahead of time by contacting Putu Susantini, spa manager, at 011-62-361-771906, ext. 6438.
Among the Westin's eight restaurants and bars, one of the most popular is the 125-seat beachfront Ikan, which evokes a chilled-out ambiance Balinese-style, which can best be described as sophisticated but friendly. Agent advice
The Westin offers a Balinese Week package starting at $119 a night per person double, seven nights minimum. The travel agent liaison is Yusep Budiadi (011-62-361-771906, mailto:email@example.com.
The five-star Oberoi, Bali (www.oberoibali.com) is only five miles from the airport, making it a good choice for visitors arriving after a long flight. A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, The Oberoi, Bali is located on Seminyak Beach—generally regarded as a hipper, more sophisticated alternative to Kuta, which is three miles away.
Most of the hotel's 74 thatched lanais and villas have their own high coral stone walls for privacy, and every Luxury Villa has a terrace, garden and raised pavilion for private dining. The Luxury Villa Ocean View with Private Pool category tends to sell out quickly, due to the rooms' privacy and size. These also have the optimal ocean views, with Luxury Villa #208 having the absolute best.
The Oberoi Spa in Bali has two open-air massage pavilions. The Mandi Lulur treatment is a popular choice at the spa; it combines massage with a Lulur yogurt body scrub followed by a relaxing soak in a flower-strewn bath. Agents can make spa reservations by contacting 011-62-361-730361, ext. 846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The resort has three restaurants, including Kura Kura, which offers fine dining under an open-air thatched pavilion with a central lotus pond. Suggest that your clients try the house specialty, 48 Hours Sous Vide—slow-poached Wagyu beef cheek with purple potato risotto.
Marc Denton, general manager, can be contacted directly at 011-61-361-730361, ext. 850, or email@example.com. Rates at The Oberoi, Bali start at $255 a night, double occupancy.
COMO Shambhala Estate (www.cse.comoshambhala.bz) is a wellness retreat overlooking a river and surrounded by forest. The estate is about a one-hour drive from the airport and a 15-minute drive from the inland town of Ubud. Its programs (cleansing, Ayurvedic, rejuvenation, stress management and fitness) run for three, five or seven nights.
For the ultimate stay, book one of the four COMO Shambhala Suites. Each is identified with a nature theme—wind, water, fire, forest. For example, the Water Residence has views of the waterfall and the east river. This suite has its own entrance, living and dining area, bedroom, six-ton rock bath, waterfall pool, private Jacuzzi and bale. Along with the nature suites, the most requested accommodations are the Royal Suite, which has two master bedrooms, and the Retreat Villas. Each of the five Retreat Villas has a lounge area that may be converted into a spa treatment room. The Royal Suite and the COMO Shambhala Suite in Forest Residence have the most spectacular views overlooking Ayung Valley.
The spa has 13 treatment rooms. Four are outdoor pavilions with their own outdoor bath and shower. The most popular treatment is the strong and invigorating Taksu massage. The spa manager is Sally Halstead (011-62-361-978 888, firstname.lastname@example.org
The estate has two restaurants. A special feature is the "rawstafel" lunch served the last Friday of each month. Guests partake of a "living food" menu with Balinese and Indonesian flavors, based on traditional recipes.
Contact Santi Triana, sales manager (and wedding coordinator), at 011-62-361-978888, ext. 8201, email@example.com.
COMO Shambhala accepts guests ages 16 years and older. Rates begin at $275 per person, double occupancy.