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“Get Wrecked on Keppel.”
That was the cheeky slogan once used to market one of the Great Barrier Reef’s most beautiful islands to the world. And for decades, it worked.
Thousands of tourists flocked to Great Keppel Island in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s to snorkel the reef and party on its white sand beaches.
But thanks to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, Keppel has limped through the past decade.
However, Tower Holdings, Keppel’s owner, has come up with a scheme it says will save the island by inventing its own cryptocurrentcy, and inviting any Aussie to take part in its resurrection, news.com.au reports.
Tower Holdings paid $16.5 million for the famous resort island in 2006 but if everything goes to plan, the island is about to undergo a redevelopment they predict will increase its value by billion.
The developer has partnered with a Sydney-based cryptocurrency consortium which it hopes will fund the $300 million development.
In essence, the company is inviting anyone to buy a piece of the island, via a token, using blockchain technology.
Once the set number of tokens is sold, the money made will fund the island’s revitalisation which will include the construction of a luxury resort, an airstrip, a golf course designed by Greg Norman and a marina for wealthy visitors to dock their superyachts.
Tower Holdings expects the 250 beachfront rooms, 700 luxury villas, casino, research centre and all the other perks to take five years to complete.
In a promotional video, the Great Keppel Island scheme is dubbed a “true once in a lifetime opportunity, the likes of which may never come around again”.
“This is your chance to acquire the greatest gem on earth,” a voiceover says.
Over the next week, investors are invited to register their interest in the so-called Great Keppel Island tokens (GKITs).
Tower Holdings will keep 12 per cent of the GKITs and the tokens will be able to be traded on any crypto exchange platform.
A white paper will be released next week but the island has already kicked off its marketing campaign.
The development is “fully supported” from all levels of government, the developer says.
The Blockchain Centre general manager Karen Cohen said tokenising assets was the way of the future.
“It’s a great idea, in terms of raising money. I think it’s a trend we’re going to see more and more where people can’t afford a whole building or a whole island so instead they’ll buy part of it with tokens,” Ms Cohen said.
While she said tokenisation was going to be “the way of fixing Australia’s real estate crisis” she said it wasn’t always the answer to everything.
“Like any investment, an investor will be looking for a return on that and if it’s not a good investment, tokenising won’t make it better.”
Running the islands of the Great Barrier Reef are typically extremely difficult business models.
Island owners not only have to battle cyclone season and the harsh Australian elements every year, reef resorts are also extremely expensive to run.
Shipping food, water and waste to and from islands is pricey.
Australia’s small migrant force — when compared to countries like the US and parts of Asia — has also left reef resorts begging for high-quality staff.
University of Queensland Associate Professor of Service Management David Solnet said encouraging workers to live on remote islands for long periods of time is difficult.
“Sustaining labour is a big issue on the reef. Finding and keeping good people on a remote island, that can provide five star service and can justify someone spending the level of money on a room is hard,” Prof Solnet said.
“People do not want to live for long periods of time on remote islands. It’s an issue globally but it’s really bed here because we don’t have a migrant pool to pull from.
“It’s a difficult slog and you can see that in the number of islands that haven’t survived.”
The futuristic business idea has never been done on a scale as large as Great Keppel Island but Tower Holdings chief executive Anthony Aiossa told the ABC the company had done its homework.
“We spent many months trying to understand the technology of blockchain itself, and then we tried to research and talk to as many people as possible about its application into the finance world,” Mr Aiossa said. “It’s not something that’s just been pulled out of thin air. It’s a serious new frontier.”
‘IF YOU COULD OWN A PIECE OF AN ISLAND, WOULDN’T YOU WANT TO?’
Unlike the share market, blockchain systems boast about being a community.
“It’s a smart move on behalf of the island,” Ms Cohen said.
“If you could own a piece of an island, wouldn’t you want to? It’s an opportunity to buy something you wouldn’t normally buy and it’s broken down into a smaller thing that any person can get — that’s where the appeal is.
“The traditional stock market doesn’t have that community drive where if you believe in a project, you get money and invest in it. It appeals to mum and dad investors.”
That’s a sentiment supported by Mr Aiossa, who marketed the GKITs with a similar community sales point.
“People from around the world will be able to go online, view the offering, and if they wish to participate, will be able to buy tokens and essentially own part of the project,” Mr Aiossa told the ABC.
RMIT’s Blockchain Institute researcher Alastair Berg said blockchain was democratising investment.
“Tokenising like what they’re doing allows new classes of investors who might not ordinarily be involved in these sorts of projects to participate,” Mr Berg said.
“We’re moving towards democratising financing which I think is very cool. We’re talking about tokenising real world assets here. It’s no different to any other sort of infrastructure financing but it just democratises it.”
Mr Berg said regardless of how the project goes — and if people’s investment in the tokens actually funds the resort — it’ll be an important lesson.
“The concept has a lot of merit. The lessons learnt will contribute to the friendliness between the government and this technology and even if it fails, we can look at why,” he said.
“Was it because of regulatory burdens? And what can the government learn to make sure developers and investors who want to use these forms of financing can do so without barriers?”