Fin our days before Thanksgiving, as the United States braced for a second wave of the disease that killed more than 270,000 people and forced most of the world into isolation, CEO Nicholas Duro launched his app for events premium live and group travel. He called it “Private Island”.
To celebrate its debut, Duro transported 19 people – including 12 TikTok influencers and a Nickelodeon star – to Hawaii for a nine-day “Friendsgiving” of “luxury hotel rooms, fine dining and plenty of activities designed to do circulate the blood ”. The guest list included Colie Nuanez, India Good, Carson Paw, Mishka Silva, More complete house actor Isaak Presley and at least eight others. “Is anyone ready for skydiving, jet-skiing and motocross in the hot tropical sun?” the press release for the launch requested. “It definitely beats a zoom meeting in my pajamas.”
“Social media influencers want to show their life is fun,” Duro told The Daily Beast. “That’s how they attracted such followers – it’s by showing the world that they have the kind of secrets for a happy lifestyle, for a lot of fun, for adventure.”
The self-funded app has promised to maintain “compliance with pandemic regulations.” But just three days before departure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a statement announcing that more than one million cases of COVID-19 had been reported in the United States this week alone. “As cases continue to rise rapidly across the United States,” the CDC warned, “the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with.” But Duro argued that Hawaii has the lowest number of cases of any state. After a first pre-flight test, the trip went as planned.
In their announcement of the trip, Private Island acknowledged that participants had “already received a lot of hatred for this decision,” but argued that “traveling and social interactions” could be done safely. Their proof: “The group were spotted by a number of sources driving around the island of Maui this week in their 4 Cadillac Escalades, but only from their villa to adventure destinations with no exposure to the outside world.
The app, which officially went live in early November, bills itself as ‘Adventure Instagram’ – a scrolling feed of extravagant parties and trips that users can join or share, alongside some pretty literal images from the island. The general user, Duro said, starts off as “an island with just yourself.” But when you start “selling tickets or letting people come to your island, which can be free or come at a cost, the island starts to grow and you see people coming onto the island.” (Currently the whole island has about 15,500 users).
This is because the app works more like the celebrity-focused Raya dating app, emphasizing exclusivity and requiring hosts to approve guests and vice versa. “Private Island,” as Duro put it, “represents someone who puts together an exclusive group and puts on a fantastic experience for that group.” The former event planner – who last founded the artisanal ice cream company (“we’re still capitalizing on it,” their website reads) Honeymoon – saw it as a cure for an age-old problem.
“I thought we were kind of going to tackle a problem that we were seeing when hosting events,” said Duro. “If we wanted to instruct people to come to our events, we had to make the event Public on Eventbrite or Ticketmaster, and we ended up involving a lot of random people in our supposedly exclusive events. “
On Private Island, you could earn money and keep the public out. At least that was the pre-March plan. “Before the pandemic, we were a lot more focused on things like concerts, big parties,” Duro said. After eight months of recalibration, the CEO decided to go for Thanksgiving. The app added a way to specify social distancing measures and make guest lists more transparent. They also claim to have implemented means to require and verify COVID-19 testing, although they have not told us how, and testing is not required to organize or attend events. They also planned to target smaller groups.
During the “Friendsgiving” trip, participants did not self-quarantine upon arrival. Hawaii lifted this requirement, pending a negative pre-flight test (although as of December 2, one island reinstated it.) Once in Maui, influencers were reportedly split into two separate groups, who avoided contacts with each other. “We spoke to medical legal advisers who basically said this was the best way to do this,” Duro said. (The CDC has repeatedly advised against group travel during the holidays).
Duro declined to comment on the cost of the trip, but many attendees came under a sponsorship deal. However, when influencers tapped the trip, the comments were polarized. “I don’t think there is a single person who hasn’t had a negative reaction,” Duro said, “in terms of people reaching out and saying it’s not fair. This should or shouldn’t happen during a pandemic. “
None of the guests responded to multiple requests for comment. When asked to connect The Daily Beast with some of the guests, a spokesperson for Private Island wrote:
Unfortunately the personal manager [sic] influencer manager is concerned about the general direction in which Daily Beast tends to focus on the negative factors. While we have worked tirelessly to ensure we are in compliance with Hawaii law and recommended best practices, the intention of the author of our story will hold the power to communicate the reality of our intentions or, on the contrary, to make us pass into the category of what is not. ; rule breakers, disrespectful of health or safety. I would like you to talk with the whole team, share some content with yourself and discuss our future plans. To do this, I should check that your work accurately reflects our situation, in a positive or neutral light.
The company said it did not know if any attendees contracted COVID-19 after the trip. One of the influencers tested positive before his flight, Duro said, and did not come. As of December 4, the Hawaii Department of Health had identified six recent COVID-19 clusters in Maui. Maui Mayor Mike Victorino said investigations so far have confirmed 22 cases, 14 of which were from a “social gathering.” At least two cases were from a gymnasium; three of the clusters were linked to bars or nightclubs.
As of now, Duro said the app has no formal plan to follow up with participants. Instead, Private Island is planning future events. “There are several trips over this winter,” said Duro. “We have Lake Tahoe which is scheduled for late December. We are going to do Costa Rica. This is happening in January… We are in talks with the Ritz Carlton at the moment.
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