Why Renting an Island Is Better Than Buying One

Cousine Island Seychelles - H 2016
Cousine Island Seychelles - H 2016

Although Richard Branson is among the billionaires who own their private paradise, more people are starting to rent to avoid the hindrance of of paying for maintenance while still receiving the luxury privacy they request.

Richard Branson may have recently expanded his portfolio with the purchase of Moskito Island, one mile from his famed Necker in the British Virgin Isles, but owning a private island has its burdens. “You’ve got to look at waste management, telecommunications, solar, energy,” says Chris Boswell, a Dubai-based broker who has overseen the sales of multiple islands and says a well-developed one can go for upward of $100 million. “It’s quite a hindrance, really, to own one.” For that reason, many people in the public eye are choosing to rent islands for weeks at a time rather than buy. “They get the privacy they request,” says Farhad Vladi, president of brokerage service Vladi Private Islands. “The public only knows they’ve been there after they’ve left.” One recently refurbished retreat up for rent: Cousine Island in the Seychelles, Cousine Island and its luxury villas, an archipelago off East Africa. Previously owned by a German family who no longer vacationed there, the island was in disrepair when billionaire granite sourcer Malcolm Frederick Keeley bought it in 1992.

He embarked on an extensive rehabilitation project to get rid of sheep, cows and non-native plants. Today, it’s a 74-acre Eden free of rats and other pests. “You’ll find all the birds nesting on the ground,” says Kirsten Keeley, Malcolm’s granddaughter and Cousine’s head of marketing. “It’s as it was, untouched by mankind” — except for four newly renovated luxury villas and a presidential suite that together can house as many as 12 adults and six children. Only one family or group can book the island at a time, at $34,000 a night. The island’s staff of 21 thoroughly researches guests’ preferences, including their favorite fragrance and type of chocolate, and remains at their beck and call for scuba diving, tortoise rescuing and wine tasting. Cousine also employs travel agents to help with airline bookings and transfers via helicopter or yacht. The appeal is evident: “George Clooney stayed on [neighboring] North Island when he proposed to his wife and was photographed by other guests,” says Keeley, “so how private is that?”

This story first appeared in the Aug. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.