When a South African realizes his green dream in China
Updated: 2013-04-14 08:03
By Xie Yu in Shanghai(China Daily)
Top: Naked Stable Private Reserve is nestled in the secluded green Mogan Mountain in Zhejiang province. Above: Grant Horsfield and his wife Delphine Yip. Photos Provided to China Daily
Brave, pioneering, and a dreamer - that is how 37-year-old South African resort developer Grant Horsfield describes himself.
"My wife and I put everything we had into this project. Many people say I am crazy to invest my life into China and a project in the middle of nowhere," says Horsfield as he sips beer in a cafe bar inside his resort, Naked Stables Private Reserve, nestled in the beautiful green Mogan Mountain in Zhejiang province.
Bathing in the glow of sunset, he looks more like an adventurer than a businessman.
The resort spreads across more than 24 hectares of private, secluded valley, and is surrounded by verdant bamboo forests, tea plantations and farming villages.
Located 2.5 hours from Shanghai by car, one hour from Hangzhou, it has become a popular escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
In 2007, he spent $1 million to lease eight original farmhouses in a village in Mogan Mountain, and refurbished it into a holiday complex, named Naked Retreat, with a capacity of 30 guests. Business was brisk with average charges ranging from 500 yuan ($81) to 1,000 yuan per person.
In 2011, Horsfield opened the second resort, the Naked Stable Private Reserve on the mountain, with 121 rooms.
Larger and equipped with more recreational facilities including swimming pools, a spa, a theater, and tea fields, this resort targets urbanites with good income and those looking for a high-end holiday experience. Revenue has already surpassed 90 million yuan in 2012.
"My father died when I was 12, with no money. He left the family when I was 5. My mother had to raise five children by herself, with no money. I do not think people with fortunes will work as hard as I do," he says.
When he was doing his MBA degree at the University of Cape Town, Horsfield heard a story of how a Belgian businessmen made a fortune by exporting chicken feet, something that are normally thrown away in his country, to Beijing. Since then, he has been thinking of bringing something unique from Africa to China.
"I looked for many products but didn't find a proper one. And then I thought it might be better to export an idea, rather than a product," he says.
Traveling around China, he was impressed by the country's fast and immense modernization, and observed a void in resorts that are close to nature.
Because of the resort, Horsfield has carved himself a name in China, particularly in the resort business circle, as an eco-warrior.
But, Horsfield says he is just following his heart and reveals initially, he faced some challenges.
Communication with the locals was difficult, as instinctively, locals do not trust laowai, he says. The best way to build trust, according to Horsfield, is to display honesty. He also learned to drink Chinese distilled liquor, baijiu.
He also never expected keeping construction under control and following the planned design to be so hard.
"Being a leader requires great determination," Horsfield says.
His first priority was maintaining the natural environment around the resort. Buildings only cover 5 percent of the land.
His design team, led by his wife Delphine Yip, an architect, has ensured that they protect the fauna and flora, use green materials and recycle.
The project recently became the first resort in China to achieve LEED (Leadership in Environmental Energy Design) Platinum Certification.
His company, located in Shanghai has identified a few projects near Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, and plans to invest 1 billion yuan to build new resorts.
"My concept is simple. The resorts will be close to the mega cities, yet peaceful and close to nature. It is what China lacks now, and it is what people want," Horsfield adds.
(China Daily 04/14/2013 page5)