Hire a private island for a delirious vacation
The Economic Times, India, 9 May 2010, Anirvan Ghosh
Few years ago, Hollywood superstar Mel Gibson was in a dilemma on whether he should go back to an acting career again after some years of successful direction. He decided that he needed to get away from all the noise, paid $250,000 million for his cliff-ringed Fijian retreat island, and stayed there for a month. He later bought it for around $15 million.
This is just one of the ways the rich like to relax, enjoy and contemplate—various moods but the destination is the same—a private island to rejuvenate. Closer home, Vijay Mallya is said to be owning islands near Mauritius, and one near Monte Carlo, and stays for weeks on more exotic ones. The head of a Ahmedabad-based firm celebrated his wedding with close friends at one of the Caribbean islands.
Unlike many other things that the rich like to indulge in, this comes in short supply and is finite. You can have expensive diamonds but they are not running out as yet. But islands are in very short supply, and they are not increasing—what’s existing now is the only supply.
The most precious of them are in the Caribbean and the US Virgin Islands. Billionaires own them, but you can experience the life for a while. The good news is that most of such owners, who include people like Richard Branson, are ready to rent them out. You can also get the island where Marlon Brando lived for years in rustic fashion on Tetiaroa in French Polynesia.
“From here, I have clients who are ready to pay around $50,000 per day for an island,” says Ketaki Kapur Pande, who heads HOPP Worldwide, high end travel agency. She says that while demand for such luxury islands dipped to almost half of last year, it is showing signs of picking up this year. Most of her clients are industrialists and investment bankers, and with the economy tanking, they cut back on excessive spending.
But they did have a good time in other ways. So what if they could not rent out an island, says Nikhil Kumar Arora, chief operating officer, Bespoke Tours, “they rented out villas and stayed there for weeks.” So in other words, instead of taking the entire island on hire, they did with some part of the island. “Castles with six or more bedrooms, and those with a celeb touch to it fetch around $2000 a night,” says Pande. The properties that cost more are like the castle where actress Gwyneth Paltrow got married, but still they are much more affordable.
Hollywood couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie rented an entire island so that their six children could celebrate Easter in peace. Brangelina, as they are called by the tabloids, took their children to the Venetian island of San Servolo for a day of Easter activities. “From now on that island will fetch a higher rent,” says Pande, which might work out to around $200,000 for just one week.
Times are now getting better, and high-end travel agents are getting requests for islands on rent. The most discerning and richest people often want to stay at the Necker Islands, which is owned by Sir Richard Branson, and costs up to $322,000 a week for around 25 guests. You can bring in more people at an additional cost of $1,250 per person per night for between 15-20 guests.
It goes without saying that such islands, mostly in the Caribbean or Ibiza, Spain, are out of bounds unless you are a multi-millionnaire. The most popular islands for Indians are Ulusaba (in South Africa), Hamilton (Australia) and some islands near Victoria in Canada, all of which offer options at around $10,000 a week.
What is the main reason to rent out an island? “To relax, in the best style possible, and in the most exclusive way possible, ” says Farhad Vladi of international brokerage Vladi Private Islands in Hamburg, Germany. Vladi says that while you can rent out entire beaches for a song, good islands are very scarce.
But the renting of islands, is still a niche activity, even though there are many rich people in India. So, why don’t more billionaires and celebrities rent islands? One, there is a finite supply of them. For another, they are not to everyone’s tastes, no matter how appealing they might seem in a photograph. The best islands have beaches to lounge on, clear waters to swim and fish in and terraces to dine on, but unless your property happens to be close to civilization, you can rule out shopping, dining out and visiting museums.
That is compensated by a host of features, and being in your own exclusive world. You can swim in two freshwater pools, two jacuzzis, wind surfing, kayaking, water skiing, snorkelling, fishing, sailing, and a chef is always on standby for your order.
Many people rent out an yacht as well, so that they can sail around when they are on a more interior island. “I had a group of investment bankers who wanted to watch the semifinals and final of cricket world cup in the Caribbean,” says Pande. Of course, little did they know that the Indian team would beat a hasty exit.
Some islands are cheaper, says Vladi, because it is more difficult to access them. For example, you might not be able to land your Gulfstream, or have a harbor deep enough to handle anything larger than a small boat. So that rules out your yacht. The question of accessibility also brings in access to electricity and running water. This means that while you can get an island on rent for six months, you won’t really fancy it if its a hurricane-prone area.
The good thing is that technology has made islands more accessible. So while you are travelling in a yacht and are at the mercy of the sea, solar panels and wind power generators are now common. That means you can stay there for an extended time, in full luxury, and without having to worry about electricity or water, as desalination equipment has also become that much more affordable. Of course, many people value this chance to be a recluse. A tour operator, who declined to be named, says that one of his clients rents an island every year just to be by himself, and his family.
There are no phone connections on the island and he uses a radio to communicate. So what would be the checklist for you to rent an island? First go to a good travel agency or a island broker, like the one Vladi has. Then try and make a trip to some of them before you decide to rent them for an important occasion as there might be problems even if its luxury - it must suit you. And finally, pay through a secure route. “Enjoy the experience, for you have clearly arrived,” says Pande.