Eden Island Development Company chairperson, Craig Heeger. (Roy McKenzie, News24)
Cape Town – The recent opening of the Eden Bleu Hotel on Eden Island, Seychelles, marks the culmination of a R5bn project which was almost entirely developed by South Africans.
Situated on a manmade island just 100 metres off the capital Victoria, Eden Island is a residential and commercial development credited with turning the Seychelles economy around, creating over 700 permanent jobs while also contributing about 45% of the country’s gross domestic product and 9% of foreign direct investment.
So how did a South African team get involved in such a project 5 000km from home?
Public private partnership
Cape Town property developer Craig Heeger, who is the executive chairperson of Eden Island Development Company, says a variety of factors led to the creation of the development on the reclaimed island 12 years ago.
At the time, the country’s economy was in a precarious state, having defaulted on international loans, and it was seeking ways to improve its tourism offering so that the profits from tourism spend at the largely foreign-owned 5-star resorts would stay in the Seychelles and contribute to job creation and the local economy.
According to Heeger, Seychelles officials discussed “doing something on the island” with him. They later signed a public private partnership, and Eden Island was born.
A key part of the agreement was that the development would have direct benefits for the Seychelles, and contribute to the economy. For instance, 90% of the staff at the new Eden Bleu Hotel are local, Heeger points out. The contribution from the inflows of foreign currency into the country has had “a terrifically positive effect”, he adds.
However, being a small island nation, the majority of materials have had to be imported, adding to the challenges of the project as well as the costs. “It was difficult to convince people we could deliver on our vision,” Heeger recalls.
Construction work started and the project was launched as a property residential development in the UK and Ireland in 2006.
There have been 480 sales so far and 90 to go, says Peter Smith, marketing director for Eden Island Development Company. Initially, 55% of sales were to South Africans, but this has declined to 35% as interest from predominantly European markets increases. The development recently won three international property awards, including Best Development Multiple Units for Africa.
Eden Island is now changing its focus from a purely residential development to market itself as “a destination with many facets”. Apart from the residential sales and re-sales, there is a thriving rental pool and plans for other businesses such as a microbrewery, but the new hotel is central to future plans to focus on the business and conference market.
As Heefer explains, the most successful conference centre in South Africa is Cape Town’s – not necessarily because it’s the best, but because people want to go to Cape Town. He hopes the same will hold for the Seychelles – and adds that they have already received significant interest.
For that reason, the new hotel features some of the latest technology, with a conference centre which can accommodate 340 delegates or 250 diners at a banquet. The hotel, however, only has 87 rooms – meaning that the rental pool on Eden Island will also benefit if extra accommodation is required.
Heeger describes it as a “complete game changer for the segment”.
Other positives, according to the company, are that the Seychelles has no violence and is also not affected by Somali piracy or security concerns, unlike other East African countries.
So what next, now that the hotel has opened? Heeger admits they’re running out of land to develop. “But watch… we have something in mind,” he says, alluding to a new development in the Seychelles to be announced sometime in the future.
The Seychelles government has an open-door policy with the team which has helped make this a successful public-private partnership - and a catalyst for turning around the economy.
"The president said that if it were not for Eden Island, he would not have been able to embark on the extraordinary economic, political and social reforms that have transformed the Seychelles in the last 10 years," Heeger said.