On the Indonesian resort island of Bali, building height is measured by coconut trees.
Anything taller could anger the Gods the Hindu locals believe inhabit the island. So plans to renovate a decades old hotel overlooking a 16th-century temple and turn it into a bigger six-star resort, complete with a tower and upgraded golf course, are causing some anxiety.
It will be known as the Trump International Hotel and Tower Bali. Donald Trump’s company has paired with an Indonesian tycoon to build what they say will be the largest resort on the island. With construction targeted to start in early 2018, it risks making the new U.S. president a lightning rod for local ire over the project even as he seeks to divorce himself from his sprawling business empire.
“I would strongly recommend against any new developments that impact the temple,” said I Gusti Ngurah Sudiana, the local chief of Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia, the country’s peak Hindu organization. “These things are sensitive in Bali. The Balinese don’t tend to speak up, but these things related to the sacredness of the temple are very sensitive, only the enforcement is too weak.’’
The Trump Organization says the hotel and tower will offer views of the Indian Ocean and Tanah Lot temple and bring “a new level” of luxury to Bali. The project cements ties between Trump’s family and MNC Group founder Hary Tanoesoedibjo, who was on the guest list for Trump’s inauguration in Washington, DC. and has touted his friendship with Trump’s children. Tanoesoedibjo has his own political party in Indonesia.
The renovated resort will be managed by Trump Hotels, a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization said by e-mail. It is one of two in the works under their partnership, which will cost MNC up to $1 billion.
With the new hotel still in the design phase, locals say gossip about how it will look makes them uneasy. Some Hindu devotees worry about the references in promotional material to the tower. MNC has said its height is not yet determined.
From the lobby of the current resort, guests can look out to Tanah Lot, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site perched precariously on an offshore rock, said to have been built as a shrine by a traveler who founded a Hindu priesthood in Bali. While the majority of Indonesians are Muslim, more than 80 percent of Balinese identify as Hindu.
Locals have also heard the hotel will be bigger and could require the purchase of nearby farm land. Made Sumawa, ethnic head of the village that includes the hotel, said there is a standing offer from MNC to buy land within a certain perimeter of the existing Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali Resort.
Kadek Sudiasi, 42, has lived to the east of the resort for more than 40 years and says he won’t sell his paddy fields to MNC, no matter the price.
“It’s the way of rich people to do whatever they want and to offer money to smooth the way for themselves,” he said, hunched over a recently harvested field to turn over mulch with his bare hands. “I plan to buy more land to give to my children instead of selling. Money you can make again, but land is finite, let alone fertile land.”
Tabanan regency, where the resort is located, is known as Bali’s rice depot due to the expanse of terraced paddy fields built into its hills. The locals use a system for irrigation and cooperative water-sharing structure called subak that dates back to the 9th century, to ensure rice can be cultivated on both flat land and hillsides.