Hotel construction marginalizes locals, area vendors claim

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Anton Muhajir, Contributor, The Jakarta Post, Karangasem | Thu, 11/20/2008 10:29 AM | Bali

Construction of a major tourism facility has often resulted in the marginalization of smaller, less powerful business entities in its surrounding area.

Nyoman Rimben and Nyoman Sari are two out of as many as 10 small food and souvenir vendors who have suffered that marginalization after construction began on a five-star hotel, Chateau de Bali, on Mimba beach, Karangasem.

Mimba beach lies about a kilometer west of Padangbai Harbor, one of the island’s two main ferry and supply ports.

The hotel is built adjacent to the white sandy beach, where the vendors had maintained their food stalls for years.

Rimben operated a tiny food stall which she had established eight years ago. Everyday she passed Mimba hill as she carried snacks, bottles of soft drinks and cigarette packs from her house to the food stall 500 meters downhill.

As she would approach her stall, Rimben would gaze briefly at the open beach, where dozens of foreign visitors would be basking under the soft morning sun.

“At that time the beach had up to 20 tourists per day and some of them would always buy drinks or snacks from my stall. The stall’s revenue was enough to sustain my family,” she reminisced.

Her fellow vendor, Nyoman Sari, didn’t have a stall. She would display her merchandise — colorful beach sarongs and souvenirs — in front of her friend’s food stall. She generally spent her days walking along the beach with samples of her merchandise in her hands, offering it for sale to the tourists.

She could sell up to three sarongs, each commanding a price of up to Rp 40,000.

For both Rimben and Sari, their trades were the primary sources of revenue for their families. Their husbands worked as laborers at the port.

“Their incomes aren’t enough to cover our family’s needs,” Sari said.

However, their business futures were threatened when in April of 2008 a South Korean investor, Han Jung Kok, informed the local community of his intention to build a hotel in that area. The local community enthusiastically embraced the investor’s plan.

Head of Mimba hamlet, Ketut Sumertanaya, said the local community had accepted the plan because they realized that the hill was barren and could not grow productive plants.

“The investor had also agreed to hire local people as the hotel’s employees,” he added.

Soon the hill was excavated and leveled to provide space for the new hotel, which would have an unobstructed view of Mimba beach’s blue water and white sands.

The vendors’ stalls were apparently obstructing the breathtaking view. The investor asked the vendors to relocate their stalls from the beach. Each vendor was given Rp 8 million as compensation.

“Initially we refused the offer. However, since our fellow vendors accepted the arrangement we couldn’t turn the offer down again. Moreover, the hotel promised to hire us when it began operating,” Rimben said.

When construction began, the vendors stopped their trades. Three months later construction was halted following waves of protests from the island’s NGOs, legislators and even the Bali governor himself.

They claimed the construction had damaged the surrounding environment and would desecrate the sanctity of a nearby temple. The then Bali governor, Dewa Made Beratha, asked the Karangasem regent to stop the construction. The current governor of Bali, Made Mangku Pastika, had voiced a similar stance on the hotel’s construction.

Facing uncertainty about the hotel’s fate, Rimben, Sari and their fellow vendors returned to the beach and started up their businesses again. But the condition has changed, as there are not near as many foreign visitors on the beach these days.

“Now we consider ourselves lucky if we can make Rp 500 a day,” Sari said.

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