Eden Island was the first marina built on reclaimed land on the eastern coast of Mahé, the main island in the Seychelles archipelago, in the western Indian Ocean. The project is the brainchild of the Eden Island Development Company (EIDC), made up of South African and Austrian investors who identified development opportunities there in the mid-2000s. By 2017, EIDC had already won six prestigious international property awards and has gone on to sell luxury properties worth over $500 million to date. Sales chief Peter Smith discusses the remaining opportunities for investment in a piece of land that has been described as the last Eden on Earth
You’ve been with this company since the early 2000s. How has the EIDC, and the market it serves, evolved since then?
The Eden Island project was born at a time when the government of Seychelles was looking to encourage foreign investment, and in this particular case, property investment. Through the project for the east coast of Mahé, which the Seychelles Government undertook in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they created land for development and went to the international market looking for investors, which proved difficult at the time. But as Eden Island came into the picture around 2004, the shareholders identified the development potential of the piece of reclaimed island that was to become Eden Island. Based on research undertaken at the time, EIDC saw that the international market would be attracted to it provided owners had the security of tenure, or in other words, if property could be sold on a freehold title basis. So through a series of negotiations in 2004-5, EIDC acquired the rights to Zone 10 as it was then called, a piece of land surrounded by the sea and encompassing 56 hectares. At the time we were the first company of its kind to offer freehold title ownership to foreigners.
How did the EIDC’s own sales effort go?
We took our product to the international market at a time when many people didn’t even know where Seychelles was located, so we spent a lot of money promoting Seychelles in general and Eden Island in particular as an investment opportunity within this beautiful country. We had to raise the profile of Seychelles in a what was a skeptical world at the time. We had to build a brand and build confidence in the country and in ourselves. But it all worked out: we raised funds in 2005, and from then on the project grew bigger and bigger, and so did the company. And the government of Seychelles also helped the project succeed. We went through the 2008 crisis but we created new markets and kept on selling. Many South African buyers emerged at first, but over the years we have sold property to 44 different nationalities. For instance, in addition to South Africa ,we’ve been very successful in Britain, France,UAE and the Czech Republic.
What is the overarching concept behind Eden Island?
It was important for us to create something special in this coral island reclaimed from the ocean. We wanted to create a duplicate of the foliage to be found on the main island, so in addition to harvesting form the mainland, we also built our own nursery where we cultivated all the plants now growing on Eden Island in order to create a feeling of Seychelles on this island. The architectural style is creole vernacular, which we researched at length in order to maintain the character. Over the last 13 years we have learned lessons about building materials and new technologies, and sometimes prefer aluminum over wood, but we always strive to make it look and feel local. We photographed real homes to analyze their style, their verandas, their high spaces, and we recreated that within a very safe and secure environment. Our philosophy from day one was to create a home away from home.
What can residents expect from this environment? What is it like being on Eden Island?
We have 24-hour security, and children can safely go play on the beach with or without their families. People can also go shopping at Eden Plaza, which is an easy walking distance away. And we tried to create a community through other spaces where people can congregate, such as the gym, the pool or the open park areas. As we went into the project, we found that many people are investing more than once here: many of them bought more than one unit, as an investment to make a return on. And that fact alone shows how successful we have been at creating the right environment.
The estate has 580 housing units, most of which have already been sold. What is the financial benefit of investing here?
Assuming the economic cycle remains constant, a return of around five percent per annum on new one- and two-bedroom apartments can be achieved. In fact we even went as far as to offer a rental guarantee product at 5% net for three years recently. Obviously, it depends on what you pay for the property so that people who bought in earlier years will get better returns, since prices have increased by around eight percent per annum as the island has become better known. There are currently about 30 new units left to sell. Meanwhile, some people who have been here seven to eight years are now reselling privately, and there are around 50 resale units on the market as well. As for renting out your property, the rental yield is about five percent and there is a strong long-term rental market here. The demand from the Chinese in both short and long-term rentals has increased significantly over the past year. There are about 120 properties in the long-term rental pool and a further 100 in the short-term rental pool.
What can Eden Island offer the expat market that other islands cannot?
Eden Island offers more of a community lifestyle and we’ve been very successful with this concept. And access to Eden Island is very good: we are right by the airport, and it’s an easy commute to the capital, Victoria. And if you’re traveling with a large group, keep in mind that you can put a family of eight in a four-bedroom house and still spend less than you would at a hotel, while enjoying a paradise environment. The approximately 100 units available in the short-term rental pool are ideal for periods ranging between a week and two weeks.
Chinese arrivals to Eden Island are increasing. What is your message to Chinese investors?
We have people of Chinese origin who have bought property on Eden Island, but not so many people who actually live in China. We have done a lot of marketing in that country, and begun renting more frequently to Chinese tenants. A lot of Chinese are now renting our properties long-term. And as China builds a stronger relationship with Seychelles, there will be greater investing and business opportunities, and families can relocate here to be a part of those opportunities. From a holiday perspective, access is easy these days through Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I always used to think that the Chinese liked to go to destinations that offered a greater variety of man-made entertainment, but I think that this attitude is changing. We don’t offer the glitz of a place like Mauritius, but we do offer nature at its best. And keep in mind that the Seychelles islands provide a foothold into Africa as well. There are 6 flights a week to and from Johannesburg, plus regular flights from Kenya, Mauritius and Ethiopia, so Seychelles makes a perfect stopover.
Considering there are many luxury hotels on the island, what do you offer that they do not?
We offer a self-catering environment as opposed to a catered resort. At the hotels, you get something very special and that is where you stay for the duration of your holiday. Eden Island, on the other hand, offers you the possibility of seeing the local markets, of interacting with the local community, and you know that your money is reverting to the local economy. We offer a greater taste of local identity.
How is Eden Island committed to environmental sustainability?
We are very conscious about the environment that we work in, and we have an environmental officer who walks around the island to report issues. As for the landscaping, we cultivated all the vegetation now growing on Eden Island. We also have an RO plant that produces our own water, but for power, we depend on the main island, as we don’t allow solar panels because it doesn’t blend in well with the environment we have, but we do have LED lights in all common areas. We manage our four pristine beaches and pick up the plastic that turns up on the shore; right now we are looking to tie up with a British organization called 4Ocean that is already doing a clean-up project in the Maldives. The big thing that worries us is waste collection and recycling in Seychelles. We’ve even got someone who goes through the trash, takes the plastic bottles and sends them to a recycling plant. But otherwise it all ends up in the dump, so there is not enough of a recycling effort in Seychelles yet.
What are the trends you see in the tourism industry?
Eight years ago there was an “affordable Seychelles” campaign, but the problem was that day-to-day life here is still expensive. This is not a cheap destination, and that drives us into an exclusive market that demands things like high-speed internet access and the safety of being able to leave your belongings on the beach. One of the things the government did recently is to stop the development of new hotels through a moratorium. There is a feeling that we need to constrict untrammeled tourist development, while at the same time encouraging a chief sector of our economy in a tasteful way.
At one point, Eden Island was attracting 40 percent of Seychelles’ FDI and contributing 3.5 percent to the country’s GDP. Where are you now?
We’re at around 20 percent of FDI and four percent of GDP. There is a multiplier effect at play: when you sell your house, the transaction generates income for the government. And Eden Island has also created a whole new local micro-economy. We have created 1,300 new jobs on the island. Taxi drivers would not come here 10 years ago, and now there is a regular taxi service. Sometimes we struggle to get that message across, but if you drive around you will see the number of local people working in this micro-economy of Eden Island.
The Seychelles Tourism Board has called this the last Eden on Earth. Would you agree?
My personal experience is as a South African with a banking background, where I spent most of my life. It was only through this project that I came to Seychelles, and I have to say that compared to other holiday destinations in the Indian Ocean, this beats everything else hands down. People are friendly and there is a co-operative work ethic. The environment is very accepting of new ideas. Seychelles does not open its doors to foreigners in terms of citizenship, but you can get residency for five-year periods through the purchase of property. My children have spent many happy days here while growing up and they love it. When you get off that plane, you do not find yourself running through bus terminals and stations; instead, you slide right into this wonderful environment. And when you leave, you have the sense that you’ve had a great holiday. So the last Eden is an accurate description.