Monday, July 03, 2017

Five-star Zanzibar: a Gem in the Indian Ocean
New high-end hotels entice people to the island — but many fall in love and decide to buy there permanently

Sunset on the beach in Stone Town, Zanzibar © Getty
JUNE 30, 2017
by:Hannah Roberts

A crossroads of east and west, Zanzibar was for centuries the hustling epicentre of the trade in spices, ivory and slaves. In the 19th century, explorer Henry Morton Stanley, gathering supplies for his marathon undertaking to find Doctor Livingstone in the African interior, noted the “thin line of sand over which the sap-green water rolled itself with a constant murmur and moan.” Zanzibar was “the fairest of the gems of creation,” he wrote.

A semi-autonomous territory of Tanzania, the archipelago of more than 50 islands remained largely the preserve of backpackers and bolder travellers until the new millennium. Few international carriers ran direct flights and it suffered from a lack of investment. But in recent years, the government has begun a drive to attract high-end tourists, hoping to position the island on a par with Mauritius, the Maldives or the Seychelles.

For some, Zanzibar’s history, with the colonial forts and Arabic architecture of Stone Town, one of the few intact Swahili coastal trading towns of east Africa, and myriad of mosques, churches and Hindu temples, means it has even more to offer than other Indian Ocean islands. Investment from a scattering of high-end brands, including Hyatt and Per Aquum, and improvements in infrastructure, has enticed rising numbers of tourists and, increasingly, international buyers to the island.

“The five-star hotels bring people here, they fall in love and decide to invest,” says Frank Jungbluth of My Beach, an agency specialising in beach houses in Tanzania and Zanzibar. Luxury resorts also bring investment through tax dollars, he points out, and often upgrade infrastructure, such as roads or power supply, at their own cost.

At the same time, much of Zanzibar’s charm is that it is still relatively unsophisticated, James Prevost of estate agency ReMax Omela. “Till now it was a backpacker destination. It’s one of the last islands left [in the Indian Ocean] that’s not overdeveloped. It still has dirt roads, it’s rustic. The five-star element is only just beginning here.”

Till now it was a backpacker destination. It’s one of the last islands left [in the Indian Ocean] that’s not overdeveloped. It still has dirt roads, it’s rustic.

Recent improvements have included an upgrade to the airport with a new terminal and extended runway. An 18-hole Ernie Els golf course is planned as part of a $1bn mega development in the north — east of the island. Zanzibar Amber Resort will have a private jet airport, deep-water mooring for yachts, polo club, water park and souk, as well as Anantara and Ritz-Carlton Hotels. There will also be villas and apartments for sale, with prices up to $5m for a six-bedroom villa. The first phase is set to be finished in 2020.

The number of tourists visiting Zanzibar, according to Prevost, has been growing at 8-10 per cent a year for the past decade — apart from 2008 when it dipped in the global downturn. Last year the number surged 28 per cent on 2015, partly because of fears of terrorism in places such as Egypt and Turkey.

All land in Zanzibar is government-owned and citizens are granted right of occupancy or leases. Foreigners can buy leaseholds of properties in condos for 99 years. Almost 500 condo units are in development as a result, says Prevost. A three-bedroom town house in the Villa Mbweni development costs $299,000 through ReMax agency.

International buyers can also buy outside condominiums if they rent out part of their property, for example, a guesthouse, or the main property when they are not there, but caution and reliable legal advice are a must.

An economic slowdown in the Gulf is prompting investors to look to new markets such as Zanzibar, according to Prevost. About 20-25 per cent of his clients are from Dubai with strong interest from Qatar, Oman, South Africa, eastern Europe, Egypt and Turkey.

Rental returns can be impressive in Zanzibar as it is a year-round destination, says Prevost. “The season lasts 250 days with 90 days full occupancy from end of November to the end of January,” he says. He estimates a 9-10 per cent rental yield. The most expensive area is Kendwa in the north-west — unlike some beaches, it has a short tide like the Mediterranean, so you can swim any time of day. Beach homes cost about $1,000 per sq metre, dependent upon the amount of land.

Other popular areas include Matemwe, with its long white beach, and Paje, popular with kite surfers. A three-bedroom beach house near Paje is on the market for $650,000 with Tanzania Real Estate. A three-bedroom beach house on Chukwani Beach, on Zanzibar’s West Coast is on the market for $950,000 with the same agency.

There has been trouble in paradise however, with sporadic security problems including acid attacks on two British teenagers blamed on Islamist militants. Some 95 per cent of the population is Muslim, and tourists are expected to dress conservatively when away from the beach.

Most foreigners own property here for seven or eight years before selling, says Jungbluth. For some it is an adventure, more appealing, he says, than the saccharine luxury of the Maldives. For some it may be an adventure too far.

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