How Nihi Sumba is Pivoting to Local Travelers

With Indonesia’s borders still closed to foreign visitors, the acclaimed beachfront property has turned its focus to wooing guests from Bali and beyond.

A bird’s-eye view of villas at Nihi Sumba. (Photo: Jason Wollcott/Nihi Sumba)

Set atop a flawless white-sand beach kissed by a metronomic wave, Nihi Sumba, a boho luxe resort on the unspoiled Indonesian island of Sumba, has been voted the world’s best hotel twice over. Yet until the pandemic struck in March 2020, around 60 percent of guests were traveling from the United States, 15,000 kilometers or so across the Pacific Ocean.

Since reopening in August, after a four-month closure and renovation, the hotel has found a new audience: the elite of Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation, and a hitherto underestimated market. “Under normal circumstances, the wealthy and powerful from Jakarta always go abroad, but because they can’t go abroad, they’ve had to discover their own land,” says Nihi CEO James McBride. “They’ve discovered us, which has been fantastic.”

An adapted full-board package, at Covid prices, caters to the requirements of a new audience traveling mainly from Jakarta, Surabaya, and Bali. Guests enjoy chocolate-making in the resort’s Hobbit-style factory, a massage at the cliff-top Nihi Oka spa, with an optional hike, plus access to yoga and meditation, as well as stand-up paddle boarding and snorkeling (when conditions permit). A visit to the Sumba Foundation, a non-profit that helps support the people of Sumba with a portion of hotel revenues and donations from guests, helps highlight the local culture.

Inside a two-bedroom Lantoro villa at the property. (Photo: Read McKendree/Nihi Sumba)

The pool at Nihi Sumba’s two-bedroom Wamoro villa. (Photo: Read McKendree/Nihi Sumba)

Indonesian travelers, McBride notes, love to Instagram their journeys, and the Socially Distant Wildly Connected package plays to that with a signature experience, “swimming with horses”—or wading into the ocean perched saddle-less atop one of Nihi’s Arabian or Sumbanese steeds. Nihi has also adjusted the food menu to allow for a more Indonesian offering.

“‘Socially Distant, Wildly Connected’ is sort of our new tagline for this period,” McBride says. “People feel safe when they come from Jakarta because of the open air but they have enough luxury from the air conditioning to the food to the beauty of the landscape.”

It remains unclear when and how Indonesia will reopen to international tourists and, even once that happens, McBride is placing no bets on when travelers will again feel comfortable flying halfway around the planet. “It will take time. Maybe 2022? 2023?” he says. “Let everyone get in a plane and fly 28 hours next year, in a few months’ time? I don’t see it. That doesn’t feel instinctively right for me.”

For the moment, McBride sees the trend towards local travel continuing to boom. “I call it ‘countrification,’” he says. “For a while, it’s going to replace globalization. People are discovering their own countries, and discovering the areas around their country, and globalization is going to actually slow down for a while.”

Even as globalization slows down, McBride remains so enthusiastic about Indonesia that he is actively looking at other sites. “There are so many beautiful places within Indonesia that Indonesians are discovering,” he says. “You know, they knew they were there, but they never went to see them and it’s just great to see that. I think they have a deeper appreciation as well and that’s just been really good to see.”

Prices for Nihi Sumba’s Socially Distant, Wildly Connected package start at IDR 9,900,000++ per villa per night (based on double occupancy and green or shoulder seasons) with a minimum three-night stay; offer valid until December 2021. More information here.

Stand-up paddleboarding down the nearby Wanukaka River. (Photo: Nihi Sumba)

Nihi Sumba overlooks its own private beach and surf break. (Photo: Jason Childs/Nihi Sumba)

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