POST PANDEMIC PARADISE
Ultra-Luxury Villas with butlers, and an idyllic private beach on the Gili Islands: Anja (48) and Ben (50) are further expanding Boutique hotel The Lombok Lodge in Indonesia. This is the first part of the summer series Success Without Borders, about Belgians who score abroad.
Pleased to share an article, recently published in one of Belgians National Newspapers. Happy Reading!
Ben & Anja
Post Pandemic Paradise
Azure water with sea turtles. White beaches, palm trees. Always sunny. Yes, the Indonesian island of Lombok is a paradise. But even in paradise, the two covid years were no fun.
The Lombok Lodge Boutique Hotel of Anja and Ben stood almost empty for two years. “That was tough. Financially, but especially emotionally,” says Anja. “We are very happy to be able to receive guests again.”
Fourteen years ago, Anja and Ben exchanged their trendy business Eat@Home in Belgium for their luxury hotel in Indonesia.
How did you end up in Lombok?
“Because of our passion for travelling, we have been to various places in the world, and we ended up in Lombok via Bali. We immediately fell in love with the beauty of its nature and its endless beaches. We were completely captivated by the authenticity and purity of the island. The more Ben and I traveled, the more we got the feeling: we want to live in a hotel. We returned to Lombok more and more, a piece of land became available, and one thing led to another.”
The Lombok Lodge is a boutique hotel: what does that involve?
“We have nine rooms: that’s quite little, which makes us a charming hotel with exclusive service. The rooms are luxurious lodge suites, with beautiful ocean views. Everyone has their privacy. While most of the hotels here are typically Indonesian with alang Alang roofs, statues and temples, our architecture is modern and timeless. Everything was designed by Vittorio Simoni, father of Belgian actor Matteo Simoni. We have combined European style with Asian culture and friendly service. Our food concept is also part of the whole: we have an excellent kitchen. Our Indonesian chef has been with us for more than twelve years, a real talent. For several years now, we have been in the top ten small-scale luxury hotels in all of Asia, and we were ranked the number one luxury hotel in Indonesia on TripAdvisor. Until corona came around and there were no more guests or reviews.”
It was just at that time that you started constructing a new private villa project?
“The pandemic was particularly inconvenient. The borders were completely closed. There was no income, but out of respect for our staff and their families, we continued to pay a basic wage. There is no social safety net here. We have stayed open all this time and stayed here ourselves with the three of us. For over two years we had only expenses with no income. That was difficult, but we chose to persevere. Vittorio Simoni has also drawn up the main lines for the new villa project; the finish and interior are our own. There are now two beach villas of 500 m², as well as a main building with wellness and private restaurant. They are located at 10 minutes from The Lombok Lodge, on a two-hectare domain with a helipad. The level of luxury is even higher: the latest gadgets, home theater and a private swimming pool of 20 meters. Guests have complete privacy: only a butler and cook are in the immediate vicinity. On January 24, 2022, on my birthday, we welcomed our first guests. The most beautiful gift after two difficult years.”
Even in paradise the pandemic was no laughing matter?
“It was very tough. Not only for our family, but also for our relatives. Many tears have been shed. If you are passionate about hospitality and hardly anyone comes as a guest for two years: that is very painful. Enjoying the beautiful surroundings and luxury was not possible, the uncertainty of the situation gnawed too hard at us. The work never stops here: it is a tropical environment, which means that there is a lot of maintenance; day in, day out. A lot of energy also went into boosting and motivating our people. The tests have been abolished since mid-May and you can now travel freely to Indonesia again. The summer season looks great. There is a huge demand. Although the new start is also a bit suspenseful. Especially with the new concepts.”
What else is new?
“Bango Di Gili: our exclusive private beach on Gili Meno. The three Gili Islands are the biggest tourist attractions in Lombok. On the middle island we have a restaurant, where we can take our guests for a day trip. Everyone already thought the Gili Islands were fantastic for a trip, but finding good food was more difficult. That is why we had been looking for an idyllic piece of land for a while. We found it at the beginning of the pandemic, when there was still talk of only a three-month closure. And then there were three more months… each time with that false hope. In the end, we are open again after more than two years, and we have grown.”
Luxury has its price tag: how much does a stay at The Lombok Lodge cost?
“From 265 to 690 euros per night for a room for two, including breakfast and dinner. In the villas, that is 890 euros for two and 1,600 euros per night for six people with breakfast and dinner. We are described as a luxury hotel, but if you compare our prices with Europe/America, it is actually not that expensive. So everyone, come to Lombok! The sea is very clear and beautiful, even underwater. The corals have been strengthened again. Now is the time to travel to Indonesia.”
Do you receive many local guests, or more of an international market?
“Especially international. Although sometimes people come from Jakarta or other large cities in Indonesia. We get a lot of bookings from Brazil, Spain and Switzerland. A little bit of everything, and that’s exciting.”
You also have a son: Olivier. How old is he now?
“He will be 18 in a few months. Olivier was 4 years old when we moved: we wanted to leave for Indonesia either when he was still young, or wait until he was 18. If we had chosen the latter, we would only have left now. He has just graduated from the British School in Jakarta and is soon starting at EHL in Lausanne, one of the leading hotel schools in Switzerland. He is very excited to continue our concept in the future”
How many staff members do you have?
“We employ 70 people. There are many more departments to a hotel than you might think: reception, food & beverage, maintenance, garden… We also have our own construction team that built the villas. And security, which is actually not really necessary. The worst thing that can happen on this island is a coconut falling on your head. (laughs) We mainly work behind the scenes: I am the creative person with the ideas and the implementation, Ben does the financial side.”
In 2018, Lomok was struck by a terrible earthquake: you escaped?
“We had some minor cracks in The Lodge, but they were quickly repaired. Business was also halted for six months, because there were so many aftershocks. Our staff, on the other hand, did have a lot of damage. Our construction team has built 35 new homes for our employees, with the financial support of people who once stayed here or are close to our hearts. That was very special”
What does the future bring?
“I would like to do a glamping project on the Indonesian island of Raja Ampat. I’ll wait until Olivier joins the business, because Ben doesn’t really like that anymore. (laughs) And after that? I hope I may be lucky enough to take care of my grandchildren. I didn’t have a chance to care for Olivier myself when he was very small. Due to the hustle and bustle of the business and due to a medical problem. I would love to take care of some babies, and enjoy how Olivier continues to expand the concept.”