|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
June 23, 2009
June 23, 2009
In 1492 Christopher Columbus made a pit-stop en route to discovering the New World and landed at a tiny island in the southeastern Bahamas called Guanahani, which he renamed San Salvador. Fast forward to the present day and this spirit of adventure lives on, with high-end tourists plotting their own courses for some of the country’s 700 islands and cays.
The appeal of such isolated islands is obvious. Secluded beaches, total privacy and idyllic natural beauty draw a range of wealthy individuals from movie stars to financiers and property moguls keen to either rent an island or simply spend the day in their own Robinson Crusoe-style fantasy.
Jason McCarroll, a partner at real estate firm Seaview Properties, explains: “Individuals with high net worth like this utopian idea of having your own getaway and people have been influenced by celebrities who themselves are driven by a desire to be out of the limelight.”
McCarroll believes the popularity of this escapist dream has arisen from a more pressured financial environment and the need to relax away from the office. “With a three-hour flight from New York you can go from a city that never sleeps to an island where all you do is sleep. It is very therapeutic.”
Facilitating this kind of island getaway for wealthy clients can prove a lucrative opportunity for many companies. From chartered yachts to luxury retreats, these island visitors expect to become castaways in comfort—heading off into the tropical sunset, champagne in hand and every whim indulged. Hiring a luxury yacht means purchasing your own personalized service ready to navigate the pristine waters on your behalf and, with prices ranging from $30,000 to over $300,000 a week, no expense is spared by the service provider in making sure their hedonistic guests are fully satisfied.
Katja Kukovic, owner of BahamasBoat.com, a division of Worldwide Boat, says clients are treated to a unique level of service. “Everything is custom made on a luxury yacht charter—custom made itineraries, menus and activities. People like getting pampered.
“Chartering a luxury boat is like staying in a five-star hotel. The crew will take total care of the guests by preparing gourmet meals, mixing cocktails and assisting them with activities and equipment as they travel to and from different islands.
“The crew is the most important element of a successful charter, especially the captain and his experience and knowledge of the area. A good captain will know all the unexplored spots where guests can have anchorages all to themselves and have ultimate privacy.”
Your own private paradise
This ultimate privacy can be obtained by venturing into the wilderness and stopping off at any number of The Bahamas’ islands and cays. Thanks to a quirk in Bahamian law, any land up to the high tide mark, even on privately owned islands, is open to the general public.
According to Kukovic, the most popular area is the Exumas, a chain of cays that begins 30 miles southeast of New Providence and stretches about 130 miles south into pristine waters.
“Most islands in the Exuma cays cannot be reached any other way than by boat. People appreciate unspoiled nature, crystal-clear water, deserted islands and sugar-sand beaches. This is an area that is still unspoiled by mass tourism and for people who want to get away and have a relaxing vacation it is hard to find a better spot,” she explains.
Ann McHorney, director of Select Yachts knows first-hand what it takes to deliver a successful charter having had 20 years experience as a crew member. She agrees that islands are a draw for guests wanting privacy and isolation: “The fact that there are so many different locations within the island groups can make for a new adventure each time. There is the excitement of Nassau but still the feeling of getting away when visiting the Out Islands. Many people develop favourite chains but make an effort to see them all.
“It is about being able to enjoy unspoiled beauty both above and below the surface. It is especially great to be able to visit these places in the comfort and service provided by the yachts.”
Luxury for longer
While lounging on a faraway beach might seem the perfect way to spend an afternoon, there are those who wish to extend their trip and spend the night alone under the stars in luxurious surroundings. A number of private island resorts cater to such desires.
One resort that has proved particularly popular with celebrity clients due to its emphasis on privacy is Musha Cay. The cay, which was originally developed by the co-founder of the Blockbuster video chain John Melk and is now owned by entertainer David Copperfield, brands itself “the most private private-island resort in the world” and can only be rented by one individual and 24 guests at a time to ensure visitors are free to enjoy the beautiful white sand beaches undisturbed. Copperfield also owns the smaller surrounding islands of Little Lansing Cay and Rudder Cut Cay, which remain uninhabited to ensure maximum privacy.
The 150-acre Musha Cay is situated at the southern end of the Exumas and has a private runway, seven beaches and five guest houses. A group of 24 guests can expect to pay up to $46,500 a day to enjoy not only the stunning surroundings and luxury accommodation but also an open air movie theatre, championship tennis court and beach gym. In 1997 Google founder Sergey Brin married on the island.
Kamalame Cay is another secluded resort located off the coast of Andros island. This 96-acre cay not only hosts weddings, Junkanoo parties and executive retreats but also fishing trips and corporate picnics. Facilities include a spa, ecotours and a variety of watersports including diving, windsurfing and kayaking. Prices vary depending on the type of property rented, with the three-bedroom villa suite costing $3,200 per night in high season (typically mid-December to the end of May).
For added privacy and at a cost of $7,350 a night, Kamalame also rents its Cove villa on a private peninsula separate from the cay and attached to Andros via a strip of beach. With four double bedrooms, each with their own bathroom and an open-air communal room, the Cove can accommodate up to eight guests at a time and has a team of kitchen and house staff always on hand. Guests also have access to all the facilities available at the main cay.
Whether planning a week-long private retreat or island hopping for the day with a chartered yacht, extravagant escapism is well catered to in The Bahamas. Wealthy adventurers can set sail in comfort and combine five-star luxury with unspoiled natural beauty.
Some of the most beautiful islands in The Bahamas are in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, which is administered by the Bahamas National Trust (BNT). The park was created in 1959 and covers a 176-mile stretch at the northern end of the Exuma chain.
There are currently around ten privately owned islands in the park and visitors are welcome at each, provided they follow Bahamian law and don’t wander beyond the high tide mark. Those hoping to find a resort-style retreat in this area will be disappointed however as the Trust is working to preserve and protect the natural beauty by limiting development.
BNT executive director Eric Carey explains: “The Bahamas National Trust encourages people to keep their development low impact. The Trust would not support any resort developments large or small or commercialization of any of the properties in the park.”
If island owners wish to build property they must apply to the Bahamian government, which then requests an opinion from the Trust. Building work can only commence if approved by both BNT and the government.
Carey says: “They [island owners] are buying into a neighborhood that does not support large development. The marketing catch is that it is a secluded area with very few neighbours under an organization that is prepared to cooperate with everybody.”