Paradise At A High Price
It's environmentally friendly and respects local people. But this Bahamas resort is only for the wealthy, says Graham Norwood
Imagine winter temperatures in the 80s and some of the planet's best fishing waters. Slot in 130 upmarket holiday homes in the local style and you have paradise - at a price. That price is set by entrepreneur Peter de Savary, the British developer behind the transformation of Skibo Castle in Scotland. He followed that by creating exclusive sailing resorts at Rhode Island and South Carolina.
Now his latest project is on Abaco, one of the Bahamas' lesser-known islands a plane-hop from the capital, Nassau. The resort includes golf courses, deep-sea fishing, scuba diving, a tropical spa, horse riding, tennis and two miles of pink, sandy beaches, all to attract the eye-poppingly wealthy.
But like all de Savary schemes, it is not just about money - you must quite literally join his club, the membership of which is determined by the man himself. He anticipates 420 members each paying a one-off $50,000 with another $4,000 annual subscription. This entitles them to use the resort and to buy a home.
On Abaco they can choose one of 70 West Indian style wooden cottages, priced from $1.5m to $2m, or one of 60 building plots each between one and two acres and valued at $1.5m to $3m plus $1.5m building costs. "You've got to show cameraderie, be public-spirited and have a good sense of humour to join," explains Henry Robinson, sales director at The Abaco Club. "And you've got to give us three references, which we always take up."
In reality, this means you must show none of the "new money" giveaway signs of, say, an English Premiership footballer. "We don't want brash - the sort who drives a Ferrari and has a wife insisting on strapless evening wear," suggests Robinson.
This approach may be undemocratic, snobby and subjective, but it seems to work in de Savary's other resorts which are profitable and have waiting lists.
At Abaco, the cottages will each have two or three bedrooms with between 1,275sq ft and 3,200sq ft of floorspace, plus sun decks. Each will be low-rise with clapboard porches and verandahs, adopting vernacular colours of red, pink and green. If you buy a plot and build your own home instead, you will end up with something similar; de Savary has issued strict guidelines to preserve the low density. Each self-build must have living space and bedrooms on the ground floor and only a master bedroom above. Extensions must be separate to avoid over-development and - you've guessed it - all plans must be approved by the club committee. "This is a winning formula. It respects the people we want to attract and respects the local people," says de Savary, whose diverse interests include once owning Land's End and running Britain's largest undertaker's. "The rules prevent anyone going berserk with their ambitions and marring the landscape. If an American wants a vast Florida-type home on a plot, we'll say no and expect him to stop," he insists.
"We could have come in, ignored the environment and built something big. Instead, we've preserved the coastline, made minimal inroads into the woodland, used local rocks to create pools and walks. In return, we attract quality buyers, mainly from the US and England," says de Savary, whose projects all follow this club-based theme.
His move on Abaco is shrewd because the Bahamas islands, stretching over 100,000 square miles of the Atlantic Ocean, are short of cash. They produce little and import most things from the US. As a result, the government is emphasising tourism, and de Savary's Abaco Club has won official endorsement from none other than the Bahamian prime minister.
"Each of my resorts looks different but is perfectly in keeping with its locality. Each appeals to a wealthy kind of club member but these people spend money locally allowing the businesses and people in the area to preserve or develop as they wish," he says.
Most locals feel the resort will transform the island forever, but see it as an inevitable price of progress. "It's quite good-looking and it helps the local economy," says Patrick Bethell, a 71-year-old islander who was initially opposed to the scheme but is now a convert.
"Having security guards on the gates of a resort is a little intimidating, but de Savary's people sweep the beach twice daily so they've improved the area," claims Dave Ralph, editor of The Abaconian, the island's paper.
The Abaco Club will undoubtedly attract the American private yacht and jet set who are de Savary's backbone clientele. There have been 100 membership applications since Christmas, reportedly each with a net worth of at least $25m. "I'm 60 this year and I could stop and retire," admits de Savary. "But I want to keep selling homes to people who appreciate them. There's a market out there."
The Abaco Club is being marketed in the UK by Knight Frank (020-7629 8171)
For Abaco vacation information go to: Bahamas Islands