This summer, Indonesia has been celebrating the 72nd anniversary of its Independence Day. In 2017, though, there is a lot more for the country to celebrate.

Indonesia has established itself as one of the world’s most attractive holiday destinations, with 7 million international visitors arriving in the country every year – a number that has been on the up for decades. Bali is at the heart of that, with 4 million visitors welcomed every year, up from around 1 million 10 years ago. This year, the island was ranked number one in TripAdvisor’s 2017 Travellers’ Choice Awards.

As Bali’s infrastructure reaches capacity, though, visitors are beginning to look for alternative, authentic experiences – and the outer edges of the archipelago are therefore seeing an influx of tourists. Gili Air has gone from the Indonesian island you’ve never heard of to hotspot on the grow.

Located 2 km off the coast of Lombok, beaches, scuba diving and traditional villages are the order of the day – all things one would expect of an island paradise. While Gili Air was once out of reach, though, its connections are expanding quickly to meet demand: not so long ago, backpackers had to travel from Bali via Lombok for eight hours to reach its shores. Today, high-speed ferries go directly from Bali to Gili Air in 90 minutes.

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As awareness increases alongside accessibility, the Gili islands are expected to become more and more popular among tourists looking to get beyond Bali. Indeed, new figures from the Lombok Ministry of Tourism show that visits to the islands have risen by almost 1,000 per cent between 2010 and 2015.

Morgan Girouard, President of Gili Developments, which recently launched the Grand Sunset resort on Gili Air, says they have “definitely” seen a rise in international interest.

“The number of boat companies bringing tourists to Gili have nearly doubled in 5 years,” he tells TheMoveChannel.com. “And the existing companies are all buying bigger, faster boats.”

Construction is also climbing: as of 2016, there are 1,078 registered tourist accommodation properties across all three Gili islands, but there are nine more projects in the pipeline designed to attract a broader, grander market. Gili Air has 321 registered properties, lower than big sister Gili Trawangan’s 675, but development momentum is increasingly shifting to Gili Air and the smaller Gili Meno.

Occupancy levels at registered accommodation across the trio have achieved a compound annual growth of 34 per cent between of 2011 and 2015, reveals analysis by consultants C9 Hotelworks. While the average length of stay is unchanged at three days, a growing number of visitors are now shortening their time in Bali to spend more time in Lombok and the Gilis.

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Those visitors are coming from all over. In 2015, Australian and European visitors made up over 70 per cent of the Gilis’ total international hotel guests. Malaysia, though, has emerged as fast growing market, with annual growth of 131 per cent, thanks to the introduction of direct flights to Indonesia from Kuala Lumpur. Domestic hotel guests in the Gilis have also more than doubled to 60,124 in 2015, as Indonesian travelers venture away from the busy streets of Bali for an idyllic Gili getaway.

As a result, Gili Air and the other islands have seen their tourist industry undergo a significant change: traditionally, they were seasonal destinations, with peak months between July and August and December and January. Now, February to May are equally active.

Where tourists go, investors follow, and those investing in Gili Air’s property are similarly diverse. Mr. Girouard says that interest in Grand Sunset, which has 25 fully operational beachfront villa suites, now comes from more places than ever.

“Singapore, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, the UK, USA…” he lists. “I know Mexicans, Italians, Chinese who own businesses on the islands. Literally, the Gilis draw people from everywhere!”

On TheMoveChannel.com, interest in Indonesian real estate has also climbed in the last year, with recent moves to begin easing foreign ownership restrictions sparking overseas attention. The country rose to become the 15th most popular destination on the property portal at the start of the year. In the following months, it broke into the Top 10 for the first time. With the widening range of opportunities in Indonesia’s smaller islands, in addition to Bali and Lombok’s established markets, Gili Air is a hotspot on the grow.

“Most visitors say Gili Air was the favourite part of their trip,” Mr. Girouard adds. “For every guest we have, we get a referral.”

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