Indonesia’s goal to revitalise its pandemic-battered tourism sector could take a leap forward this weekend when the island of Lombok gears up to host one of the world’s top motorcycle races, seen as an opportunity to showcase there is far more to the country than resort island Bali. Lombok is typically known among foreign travellers as an offshoot, getaway destination from the better-known and hugely popular Bali, which is less than an hour away by plane or two hours by fast boat. Jakarta hopes to turn Lombok into a world-class tourist destination and has included it in the government’s “10 New Bali’s” programme, alongside the likes of lush Lake Toba in North Sumatra, Java’s Borobudur – the world’s largest Buddhist temple – and diving haven Wakatobi in North Sulawesi. In Lombok, it is Mandalika that is the selling point. The coastal resort area in Central Lombok, complete with white-sand beaches, glistening ocean and green hills, offers the Mandalika Street Circuit – the site of this weekend’s MotoGP race and potentially a Formula One venue too – as well as high-end hotels, golf courses, an underwater park and a theme park, although some of these are still under construction. The value of the completed special economic zone, covering around 1,200 hectares, is estimated to come in at US$3 billion. The good, bad and ugly sides to Lombok, Komodo and Flores MotoGP events are the world’s premier motorcycle races, with many events each year. This year, for the first time in 25 years, Indonesia is once again hosting the major competition, something being seen as a very big deal. “We hope that this will be a new brand for our country, [to show] that Indonesia now has a MotoGP race circuit and that we are not left behind other countries [when it comes to tourism],” said President Joko Widodo on Wednesday, while hosting MotoGP riders at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta. Widodo said 60,000 race tickets had been easily sold, underlining that Southeast Asia’s biggest economy is a motorcycle-crazed nation worthy of hosting the world’s premier two-wheeler race. The president is himself an avid rider, proving it by getting out his prized Kawasaki W175 bike to show off to the MotoGP group. “I told the riders that Indonesia has 122 million motorcycles. There are many fans [of MotoGP] in Indonesia, and they are happy [that Indonesia hosts the race],” he said. Lombok faces painful rebuilding process after deadly quakes The growing excitement is also being felt in Lombok, about 1,300km from the capital. Many banners wishing everyone a “good, MotoGP weekend” have been put up by international and domestic firms and local politicians. Residents have also been capitalising on the race, with some selling unofficial MotoGP T-shirts or jacking up the price of their homestay accommodation. On Wednesday Widodo acknowledged that “many hotels or accommodation are still needed in Mandalika”. Indeed, foreign and domestic tourists have been flocking to the island before the expert motorcyclists rev up and do what they are paid to do. Direct flights to Lombok from Bali sold out days ago and all tickets to Sunday’s main race have been snapped up although tickets were still available for the qualification race on Saturday. While some hotels and resorts have run out of rooms, some homestays are still available on booking platforms for a nightly rate of around one million rupiah (US$69). Bangsal port in the northern part of the island was bustling on Thursday as throngs of tourists arrived, with health officials scrambling to enforce Covid-19 health protocols such as mask wearing. One enthusiastic Lombok native is Herlanul Hanafi, a hostel owner living just a few minutes drive from the racetrack. “I hope that MotoGP can boost tourism in Lombok. This might be the first time these racers come here, so hopefully many people overseas will start to notice Lombok now,” said the 45-year-old . His hostel had to close during the pandemic, in stark contrast to the full occupancy he often enjoyed beforehand. “My hostel was popular among foreign tourists, particularly surfers. They typically stayed for a long time, around one month. All they did was surf all day so they were looking for a backpacker-friendly place,” said the father of two, who will watch the main race event on Sunday. He said many of his guests tended to come to Lombok from Bali, so he had really felt the impact of Bali’s tourist drought during the pandemic. “They did not know there was a beach called Kuta in Lombok, they only knew Kuta Beach in Bali. So when tourists stopped coming to Bali, I was impacted too,” he said, sharing a sentiment felt by many working in tourism on other Indonesian islands, such as Manado in North Sulawesi. In 2019, Lombok welcomed around 1.5 million foreign tourists, according to data from a local statistics agency. That number dropped massively thanks to Covid-19, to 39,982 in 2020 and just 11,890 last year. Come to Bali – if you can get to grips with the confusing requirements This lack of foreign visitors has also had an impact on Muhammad Ridho, a Lombok taxi driver, who said his livelihood had dropped by more than half since the pandemic began. But last month, when Lombok hosted the Superbike World Championship motorcycle race, Muhammad was inundated with work. He is hoping this weekend will see him similarly busy. “I think MotoGP will significantly boost Lombok people’s livelihoods and will be equally enjoyed by street vendors, restaurants, hotel owners and drivers. I have a friend whose restaurant has been fully booked for this weekend since January,” he said.