STORY BY SAMANTHA COOMBER

On the road to APEC 2013.

Bali is experiencing dire traffic and congestion problems as the island undergoes major infrastructure projects and upgrades, but there is method to the current madness, however painful at present.
Key projects are the expansion of Ngurah Rai International Airport, an elevated toll road connecting Benoa, Nusa Dua and the airport and Simpang Siur underpass, near Kuta. These, in feverish preparation in readiness for hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit (APEC) in October, but additionally, in response to Bali’s escalating infrastructure problems and traffic congestion – legacy from bad planning and neglect over the years – combined with rampant development and increased population and visitors growth.

Addressing accessibility

Bali Hotels Association (BHA) stresses that these improvements are part of ongoing efforts to solve the island’s challenges.
“Bali traffic has grown along with the island’s popularity and hotel industry growth,” stated BHA chairman, Jean-Charles Le Coz. “Smart thinking and (overdue) clever planning should see an enormous improvement in traffic conditions with the new Simpang Siur underpass and toll road connecting Nusa Dua – truly an enormous undertaking, but increasing capacity at least two-fold. With a good PCO and client flexibility, present challenges can perhaps be overlooked!”
Anticipating surging traffic prior to, and after, APEC 2013 and ever-increasing passenger numbers, Ngurah Rai International Airport is currently undergoing a massive expansion project: upgrading the international terminal, constructing a new apron and VIP jet passenger terminal, and parking facilities expansion. This is aimed at accommodating airport annual capacity from 9 million to 25 million passengers and up to 20 wide-bodied aircrafts, including Boeing 747s and Airbus 380s. Construction of a new international-class airport in northern Buleleng regency is also in the planning stages, since Ngurah Rai faces land constraint problems preventing future runway extensions.
Overall, increased flight frequencies and low-cost airline connections have helped expand Bali’s tourism and
MICE market.
“The airport upgrade should mean an increase of international airlines flying directly in,” states BHA chairman, Le Coz. “Overall, there are enough flights, however, Singapore has become a bottleneck and several Middle-eastern airlines wish to connect on to Bali from Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, but haven’t managed to obtain landing rights, excluding Qatar Airways. Hopefully, with Bali’s airport upgrade, these issues will resolve themselves.”
Construction of the Simpang Siur underpass, at notoriously congested Dewa Ruci intersection, is, ironically, causing increased traffic problems. “Traffic is more frustrating with the on-going construction, but we should view the underpass progress as ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, literally, as it helps us accept the current situation and look to a brighter future when these projects are completed,” comments Pullman Bali Legian Nirwana general manager, Philippe Battle.
Nusa Dua-Benoa-Ngurah Rai toll road (NBD) – Bali’s first, elevated above the ocean with a planned six categories of toll fees – is designed to solve the chronic traffic jam congestion along Bali’s major “tourism highway” and dramatically reduce driving time from Sanur to Nusa Dua from one-hour down to six minutes plus give Nusa Dua, Bali’s main MICE destination, quicker accessibility to major tourist destinations, such as Ubud.

“Overall, increased flight frequencies and low-cost airline connections have helped expand Bali’s tourism and MICE market.”

BALI HOTELS ASSOCIATION CHAIRMAN, JEAN-CHARLES LE COZ

Hotels aplenty

One infrastructural problem Bali doesn’t have is inadequate hotel supply: infrastructure improvements and APEC 2013 have positively affected investors’ confidence, resulting in booming, somewhat unregulated, hotel construction in 2012 – despite an oversupply of rooms concentrated in Bali’s most overdeveloped areas, namely the south. Property research agency Knight Frank predicts Bali will have 10,466 new hotel rooms by 2014 resulting from 60 new hotel projects. More are increasingly MICE-orientated, while additional upgrades to existing venues include 18,000 square metres
of convention facilities with adjoining
5-star hotel at Bali Nusa Dua Convention Center (completing August) and Nikko Bali Resort investing US$10 million in
multi-function facilities.
According to Le Coz, regular ‘progress’ meetings, attended by BHA members, authorities overseeing infrastructural projects, police, security forces and official APEC co-ordinators, Ministry of Tourism, contribute to, “The BHA and leading meetings industry professionals more than confident that the airport and other projects will be completed properly and on schedule for APEC.” Minister for Tourism and Creative Economy, Mari Elka Pangestu, assures the media that all APEC preparations are proceeding according to plan: “Ngurah Rai International Airport expansion is expected to be completed by June or July, and the NBD and underpass, by August 2013.”
The government’s commitment to accelerate various infrastructure developments is considered positive, and expected to help optimise potential for economic growth and accommodating ever-increasing tourism numbers. Bank Indonesia argues that much of Bali’s strong economic growth is driven by expansive infrastructure growth related to APEC 2013 plus ongoing property developments. 2013 should prove a benchmark year for Bali: BHA chairman Le Coz is confident that after APEC 2013, Bali will be ready and prepared to host more high-end, high-volume MICE events: “We strongly believe that all the right indicators are in place to continue having a buoyant growing MICE market, as stakeholders are working together to improve the facilities and bring new experiences to delegates and visitors to Bali.”