South African-born hotelier James McBride has worked with some of the most exclusive hotels around the world, including New York’s Carlyle and London’s Grosvenor House.
His most recent venture is a luxury hideaway on Indonesia’s Sumba Island which operates in conjunction with the Sumba Foundation. McBride speaks to Elite Traveler about why he thinks Nihiwatu is so extraordinary, and why its work with the Sumba Foundation is crucial to the island’s native population.
ET: Why should people make the trip to Sumba?
James McBride: Sumba is a beautiful, unspoiled part of the world. It’s very green, with undulating hills and lots of different terrain. There are vast expanses of nature with very few people around. If you love beauty and you love the exotic, you’ll enjoy Sumba. The island is still very tribal; there are over 600,000 people on the island, natives who still practice local customs and traditions. Sumba also has some of the best surf waves in the world. We want to maintain the natural beauty of the island so we only allow 10 in the waves at one time – if you want to surf, you have to book a spot.
ET: What makes Nihiwatu so special?
James McBride: We are the only resort on the island, and while our 27 estate villas are all large, luxuriously comfortable and have private pools, they also have Sumbanese-style grass roofs and were made using local products. Nihiwatu is not a typical luxury experience. Staying at Nihiwatu is like a game experience, like being on a safari. Where else can you do yoga under a 100-foot waterfall with no-one else around? Also, we are not a commercial venture; we work very closely with The Sumba Foundation.
ET: How does The Sumba Foundation contribute to the island?
James McBride: We raise over $600,000 a year. The money goes towards curing malaria, buying mosquito nets, educating the island’s children, providing drinking water, building hospitals, and other essential initiatives. Most guests take the time to explore the island, seeing the clinics and the children. They are so touched and inspired by what they see that when they leave, they often add $1,000 or $2,000 to their bills as a donation to the Foundation.
ET: Do you have plans to further develop Nihiwatu?
James McBride: 12 of our estate villas were recently renovated while the others are new additions. Beyond that, a few other ideas have been floated – tented camps, perhaps, or even tree-house camps! But we are very careful about considering any new developments. Our mission is to maintain the integrity of this beautiful island.
ET: What type of people visit the island?
James McBride: We have a very sophisticated clientele. The Rockefeller and Hermès family have both stayed with us. Since we only operate charter flights to the island on Thursdays, a number of visitors fly in on private jets. We want to keep the island – and the resort – quiet and low-key. Our fundamental ethos is pretty good – we strive to protect Sumba from irresponsible development and encourage responsible tourism.
ET: Any last thoughts?
James McBride: Sumba and Nihiwatu are a unique experience – visitors often describe their visits as life-changing, and it really is. Like the best things in life, it takes effort – to get there, you have to take a 50-minute flight from Bali. But it really is something different, and the effort in getting there really pays off.