Buying into the villa lifestyle
Hotel chains banking on luxury projects in exclusive localesBy Steve Bergsman, Friday, December 11, 2009.
Occasionally, it's worthwhile to see how the other half lives.
When I'm not writing about real estate and finance, I have a secret second life as a travel writer, and in October I was invited to the grand opening of Amanresorts' second property in the United States, Amangiri, located near the Utah-Arizona border.
For those of you not familiar with the name, Amanresorts is a Singapore-based hotel chain with a collection of, one might say, intimate retreats. The number of rooms at the new Amangiri totals just 34 guest suites.
How can a hotel make money with so few units? At Amangiri, room rates run from $600 to $3,000 a night -- in the off-season! This is not necessarily a turnoff to some people, as the Aman clientele are so loyal they are known as Aman-junkies.
This all leads to the other way Aman makes money from its properties: It sells villas. At Amangiri, just a 10-minute drive from spectacular Lake Powell in Arizona and about a half-hour drive from Bryce and Zion national parks in Utah, the resort hopes to sell 28 villas of four to five bedrooms at a price tag of $9 million each.
When I drove around the environs of the resort, I noticed each plot where a villa would be built was indicated by a wooden platform. I had seen this marketing ploy before at the Trump development in the Dominican Republic. It is usually done in places where the views are spectacular. The idea is that you stand on the platform and get a real-world concept of the particular vista as seen from your future villa.
The villa concept is like the punitive condotel structure, but better. For one thing, you are not just getting a squared hotel unit disguised as a residence, but a full-blown, custom-designed home. In addition, the property doesn't have to be put into the rental pool as an additional hotel rental -- it can be kept as a private residence.
While all of the hotel facilities (pool, spa, etc.) are available to a villa homeowner, additional services such as maid, housekeeping or chef service are optional.
I sat down one evening with Sunny Lusted, the general manager of the property, to talk about the hotel and villas.
"So, have any villas been sold yet?" I asked.
"No," she responded, "but there has been a lot of interest. The critical thing was for the resort to get open, because it is important that people see it. That's because you are not just buying a building (a villa), you are buying into the Aman resort lifestyle." ...CONTINUED
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