Either Harry Langton is having a bad hair day or he hasn't slept too well on his flight from London to Delhi. Or maybe he's just a poor traveller, having replaced his father, chairman Andrew Langton of the tony Aylesford International realty group, at the last minute on the India tour.
For a couple of days in the city, and then in Mumbai, he's holed up in a boardroom with senior Aylesford executives -- group marketing director Camilla Mabbott, and India representative Suryaveer Kohli.
But the key to their India visit is Mahendra Bakhda, a developer whose Tatorio Holdings is building designer villas in Mauritius that are on offer, by invitation only, naturally, to Indians who have the dosh to spend on these acre-plus estates facing the sea.
The price? If you can scrape together Rs 18 crore (Rs 180 million), you could commandeer a two-bedroom Foster + Partners-designed casa with a private pool, a quite extraordinary roof, some spectacular views, and the glamour and privacy that comes with the high life.
At the top-end, there are villas for Rs 34 crore (Rs 340 million), and some that, at mid-point between those prices, offer similar amenities but more built-up space. At that price, you'd be hard put to buy a luxury annex in the Caribbean.
Spread over 440 acres as part of an integrated development that the Mauritian government is insisting on for purchase of property by non-Mauritian buyers, the Corniche Bay development will house 115 villas in all. It's clear that the Aylesbury team that represents the development is in India because of the large number of millionaires here, or as Mabbott says bluntly, "because there's so much money in India".
But behind this interest in wooing Indian buyers is a cleverly thought out strategy. "Some people," says Mabbott, "may want to make these their permanent residences for tax purposes."
For others, of course, it may just be another potential investment, but the promoters say less than a third see it purely in investment terms and actually want to live partly, if not permanently, in Corniche Bay.
Of course, there's the issue of a ceiling in terms of how much money Indians can invest in property abroad. But evidently, that isn't a problem in Mauritius where, under the double tax treaty, you can invest twice your annual turnover in buying property -- because it's an investment! And yes, it's freehold to boot.
Since the government is wooing foreign investment, it also has an insurance policy in place so, should a developer go bust, as a buyer your money is protected and the government will ensure that the project is completed and handed over as per the developer's contract.
"It's a breeze for Indians who don't have to pay tax in capital gains in Mauritius," explains Langton, "and there's the advantage of being able to move a lot of money there" -- something Chidambaram couldn't be too happy about, but which is why some Indian companies hold accounts there.
Monies aside, there are other strong reasons for wanting to invest in these villas in Mauritius. Unlike other countries where international developments exploded and finally collapsed, the Mauritians are not permitting high rise developments, and the lowest cost of a property in which a foreigner may invest is $500,000.
"The country is stable, and hospitable," points out Mabbott, "and there are great hospitals, great schools, a harmonious culture, and fabulous food." She pushes the Indian ticket too, though it's unlikely the formerly indentured labour families would have any links with their mother country. But "many Indians in London have expressed interest," she confirms.
That "the property is top whack -- great value for money", helps. The unique Foster + Partners contoured roof is made with hardwood timber under which lies a bedrock of concrete. The frontage has slats so hot air moves out and cool mountain air is sucked in, making it environment-friendly for those times you don't want to use air-conditioning.
In case you're looking to live there, the Banyan Tree hotel and spa that is part of the development will provide the room/maid service, F&B facilities as well as in-villa massages. Residents can use the club house and golf course. But should you wish to lease the villa for the major or full part of the year, "rental management is in place", says Suryaveer Kohli.
If the architecture is a huge draw, the location next to a heritage site and 45 minutes from the airport is just as important. Clearance work has already started, and the first show villa is to be ready by November. Twenty-three villas of the 46 to be completed in the first phase will be ready by end-2009, the balance along with the hotel/spa by end 2010.
"It will see a huge increase in prices," promises Mabbott, pointing out that a much-more modest scheme launched two years ago "has nearly doubled in value". Interesting, but has Aylesford had any ayes yet? "There is a lot of interest," she confirms, "Indians are hugely sophisticated. But we cannot give you the names of our buyers; they want their investment to be very, very discreet." Naturally, you won't see them on a commercial flight to Port Louis any time soon -- because they have their own business jets, stupid! n