In­vest­ment

Own­ing an is­land is much more than just a procla­ma­tion of van­ity. It could serve a larger role in the hu­man­i­tar­ian con­text too.

MillionaireAsia India - - Contents - By Rajmohan Kr­ish­nan

– Buy­ing an is­land guar­an­tees great re­turns, nan­cially and spir­i­tu­ally.

In Septem­ber of 2015, when the body of 3-year-old Syr­ian refugee Ay­lan Kurdi washed up on a beach in Tur­key, a bil­lion peo­ple watched in agony and shame. Naguib Sawiris was one among them. He saw the in­ci­dent as a wake-up call. He could no longer be in­dif­fer­ent to the Syr­ian hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis, and be­ing the sec­ond rich­est man in Egypt, there was a lot he could do.

He an­nounced that he will buy a set of is­lands in Greece to house the refugees. As builder, he was condent that he could cre­ate a “coun­try” of 100,000 to 200,000 happy peo­ple by of­fer­ing them safety and also the op­por­tu­nity to build, from scratch, this “coun­try” that would be­come their home. In the long-term he en­vi­sioned th­ese is­lands be­com­ing tourist at­trac­tions.

Crit­ics im­me­di­ately pointed out that, in this model, the refugees are not asked to in­te­grate with the rest of so­ci­ety. More im­por­tantly, 21 months af­ter

an­nounce­ment, it seems un­likely that the Greek au­thor­i­ties will ap­prove the project.

Yet, Sawiris’ in­no­va­tive scheme poses an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion to bil­lion­aires around the world:

Can a pri­vate is­land be a lot more than an epit­ome of van­ity?

For the bet­ter part of a cen­tury, bil­lion­aires have re­sponded with a re­sound­ing “Yes!” to this ques­tion. Let’s glimpse the tip of the ice­berg by ac­knowl­edg­ing a cou­ple of note­wor­thy and un­usual mod­els of is­land de­vel­op­ment.

The Richard Bran­son model

Sir Richard Bran­son owns two is­lands – the well-known Necker Is­land in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands and the Make­peace Is­land on Queens­land’s Noosa River. As one might ex­pect, Bran­son’s is­lan­der life­style bal­ances his larger-than-life per­sona with a strong sense of pur­pose.

It is well-known that this mav­er­ick bil­lion­aire throws open Necker Is­land to fam­ily and friends – and also celebrities like Princess Diana who, in 1990, man­aged to es­cape the pa­parazzi for a week by stay­ing here. Bran­son en­sures that his visi­tors have a great time. But he has also ob­tained max­i­mum lever­age as an is­land owner:

• The idea of Vir­gin Air­ways came to Bran­son be­cause he had to char­ter a ight back home in 1978, fol­low­ing his rst visit to the Vir­gin Is­lands. He sold tick­ets to fel­low trav­ellers and sub­se­quently en­tered the avi­a­tion in­dus­try

• Necker Is­land now hosts an ul­tra-lux­u­ri­ous ho­tel that pro­vides a steady rev­enue stream

• He em­ploys hun­dreds of lo­cal peo­ple and also funds

lo­cal en­trepreneurs

• Due to his in­flu­ence, wildlife like sharks and tur­tles are be­ing pro­tected in the area

• Necker Is­land it­self is home to re­lo­cated lemurs, cur­rently the most en­dan­gered mam­mal group and other species like flamin­gos, tor­toises, ibis and Ane­gada igua­nas which no longer ex­ist in any other is­land in the vicin­ity

The Lau­rance Rock­e­feller model

Lau­rance Rock­e­feller started buy­ing chunks of the is­land of St John in the early 1940s. By 1949, he owned most

the 5000 acre land mass. St John be­came his cho­sen site for business and phi­lan­thropy. In 1956, he opened an eco-friendly re­sort ho­tel on the western edge of the is­land and, more im­por­tantly, very same day, do­nated the rest of his land to his na­tion so that it could be­come a des­ig­nated Na­tional Park. Thus, he con­tin­ued the legacy of his grand­fa­ther, John D Rock­e­feller Jr, who is per­haps the largest bene­fac­tor of Na­tional Parks in the his­tory of hu­mankind.

While con­serv­ing bio­di­ver­sity is im­por­tant per se, it as­sumes par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance in is­land ecosys­tems which might be home to rare in­dige­nous species of ora and fauna. Surf­ing through the net, one nds an in­creas­ing num­ber of sto­ries of bil­lion­aire phi­lan­thropists who love the role of is­land con­ser­va­tion­ists.

Is­lands offer their own­ers the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence an Adam & Eve mo­ment. To re­side in a world that is en­tirely theirs, which means that they can re­design it in­side out or pre­serve the pris­tine nat­u­ral habi­tat as-is.

As­ton­ish­ingly, it doesn’t cost much to own an is­land. A small one can be bought for $20,000 and medium-sized ones cost about the same as a high-end apart­ment in Mumbai or Man­hat­tan. Best­selling au­thor Alexan­der Mc­Call Smith bought a whole chain of is­lands off the Scot­tish coast for about $460,000.

With is­lands of­fer­ing a wide and dis­tinct ar­ray of pur­poses, it’s not sur­pris­ing that many more bil­lion­aires have be­gun shop­ping for them. They might be able to buy a lit­tle his­tory in the process if they scout the right ge­ogra­phies. Ecuador, for in­stance, where some of Gala­pa­gos is­lands are lo­cated, where Charles Dar­win found ir­refutable ev­i­dence of evo­lu­tion – seem to be up for grabs.

Of course, an is­land get­away is not for ev­ery­body. Choppy seas can dis­rupt your best laid plans and you might have to es­chew cer­tain ameni­ties dur­ing your stay. But for those who have the means and an ad­ven­tur­ous spirit, own­ing an is­land prom­ises to be the ul­ti­mate life­long ad­ven­ture.

Necker Is­land

Richard Bran­son

Lau­rance S Rock­e­feller Pre­serve to Phelps Lake

Lau­rance Rock­e­feller

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