Chris Burch's 5-Star Nihi Sumba Island Causes a Sensation

In 2012, the billionaire investor J. Christopher Burch purchased a little-known surf resort on the remote Indonesian island of Sumba. After spending three years and $30 million to redevelop and renovate the property, the five-star Nihi Resort reopened under the guidance of the legendary hotelier and creative marketer James McBride. Just one year after opening, it shot to the top of Travel & Leisure's prestigious list of the 100 best hotels in the world. The publication’s readers voted Nihi the number one hotel in the world in 2016 and 2017. It has earned numerous awards from other publications, including Condé Nast Traveler and the Telegraph.


Chris Burch is the mogul behind his former wife Tory’s successful fashion label and the founder of C. Wonder, which sells apparel and home decor items directly to consumers on QVC. Through his research and analysis team at Burch Creative Capital, he's invested in Little Duck Organics and technology brands that include Powermat, NextJump and Jawbone.


Almost 10 years ago, Burch invested in the Faena Hotel and Universe in Buenos Aires, which was spearheaded by fashion designer Alan Faena and industrial designer Philippe Starck. Investors converted a turn-of-the-century grain factory into a five-star hotel. With the recent success of Nihi, it's clear that Burch is adding real estate and hospitality to his long list of investments.


Formerly Nihiwatu, the resort was a remote paradise for surfers seeking 20-foot waves in the Indian Ocean. The previous owners Claude and Petra Graves arrived on the island by way of Berlin, New Jersey and South Africa in 1988. The couple camped on the beach for several years before building the resort on a small parcel surrounded by protected land. By the mid-1990s, the Graves' business dream was on the verge of collapsing due to the Asian financial crisis and unmitigated health and social welfare issues among the Sumbanese islanders.


In response to these challenges, the Graves and a visiting technology entrepreneur worked with tribal elders to develop a 20-year plan for the island's future. The result was the Sumba Foundation, which was created in 2001. The organization relies on visitor donations and corporate contributions to support humanitarian aid efforts. Volunteers work to provide safe drinking water, reduce malaria infections and offer education and economic support to local communities.


When Burch heard that the Graves were looking for investors to expand the resort, he sent his friend James McBride to scout the property. The hospitality legend and South African native was impressed by the island's untouched tribal atmosphere. The same year, Burch traveled to the island with his three sons, who are all surfers. Burch acquired the resort from the Graves family, including many acres of protected land, and brought McBride on as managing partner to develop the resort's concept and market the brand to a wider international audience beyond the surfing community.


Although the resort has changed drastically under the direction of Burch and McBride, some things have remained the same, including the strong commitment to supporting villages through the Sumba Foundation. The resort is the island's largest employer, and it donates a portion of its profits to the Foundation. Nihi Sumba Island is still surrounded by unspoiled jungles. As its motto applies, it is truly on “the edge of the wildness.” The resort's property covers 567 acres.


Numerous Sumbanese traditional houses with thatched roofs and tall chimney-like peaks give the Nihi Sumba Island resort a distinctive silhouette. Accommodations consist of 27 private villas and tree houses with individual plunge pools. There are plans to expand. The villas make extensive use of local lava rock, native teak, antique tribal decorations and ikat textiles.


Above all of the luxurious oceanfront accommodations, the pièce de résistance of Nihi Sumba is Chris Burch's personal villa called Raja Mendaka. It includes a master estate and four guest villas that can be rented individually or together. The master villa includes a library, guest room, fully equipped kitchen, lap pool, infinity pool and a large outdoor entertaining area as well as direct access to a private boathouse. The cost to stay in Burch's five-bedroom estate is $14,175 per night. Rates for single-bedroom villas start at $750 during the green season and are roughly 80 percent higher during peak times. A three-night minimum applies. Meals and non-alcoholic beverages are included.


The new Nihi Sumba is still a surfer's paradise. The resort retains a unique 10-surfer limit on its private surf wave to avoid overcrowding. The cost to surf the legendary wave called Occy's Left is $125 per person. Surfing lessons tailored to the guest's experience are available for $250. For swimming and calmer waves, the resort transports guests to the neighboring Coconut Cove. Other activities offered at the resort include spear fishing, paddle boarding and horseback riding. Complimentary group yoga sessions are held at the wellness center. Guests can book individual classes focusing on yoga, Pilates or meditation. Nihi Sumba Island has a unique beachside spa. Private treatments are perfect for relaxing after a day of surfing or exploring the island.


Burch and McBride stress that Nihi Sumba Island isn't for everyone. Making the journey to the resort is an experience in itself. The flight from New York to Bali is over 20 hours. There's a 45-minute charter flight to Sumba followed by a two-hour drive on long, bumpy roads. For guests who crave something different, Burch and McBride are currently planning two additional resorts in Costa Rica and Nicaragua that will cater to millennial travelers.


Christopher Burch began his first entrepreneurial venture during his undergraduate years at Ithaca College in New York. Burch and his brother pooled their money to purchase colorful wool sweaters that they sold on campus. The business moved to other colleges and into the mainstream retail sector. The Eagle's Eye apparel company that started with a $2,000 investment sold for more than $60 million.


Burch was an early investor in the Internet Capital Group during the dot-com heyday in the 1990s. Through the research of his private investment firm Burch Creative Capital, he has funded dozens of popular companies in diverse industries ranging from retail to technology. Burch co-founded a brand of luxury prefab homes called Cocoon9 and recently partnered with Ellen DeGeneres to launch her line of accessories and lifestyle products. Burch's approach to investing and building self-sustaining brands relies on innovation, implementation, creativity, vision and secure financial practices. Burch travels frequently and currently spends his time between Los Angeles, the Hamptons, Miami and Sumba Island.

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