Ambitions | Cover Story


from it all

Creating an island getaway

Photography by Lyndsay Doyle
Article by Adam Hodnett

With hurricane Fiona touching down in Nova Scotia soon, Ossama Nasrallah settled in for the night, alone, on his island. With only a small kayak.

Nasrallah had been spending all his time and money preparing his new business, Nova Glamping. The island he bought is 35 minutes away from Halifax. 

He remembers the moment he got off the cold fishing boat, climbed up the old rotting dock, and saw the two-storey log cabin and a view of the lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove. 

“I thought — I’m sold,” Nasrallah said.

He set out to build everything else for a luxury “glamping” destination.

This meant bringing in geo domes from Poland. Renting helicopters to transport building supplies. Hiring local fishermen to ferry back and forth. Bringing in engineers and a construction crew. Having hot tubs and a sauna installed, and platforms and docks built, and outdoor showers and kitchens, and self-sufficient water and septic systems.

It was always important to Nasrallah that they provide a premium experience at an affordable price, right from day one. The website describes it as, “the perfect blend of luxury and nature.”

“It all goes back to giving people the experience,” Nasrallah said. “And giving people a way to explore Nova Scotia in a different way.”

This is Nasrallah’s second business. He started “Harbour Watercraft Tours and Adventures,” with his roommate while in university. It grew from one full-time and one part-time employee, to 22 employees. It also gave him a love for the tourism industry, and an insight into its potential. 

“Despite the fact that the season is really short, you can really get the best out of that season,” he said. “You’re working 14-16-hour days, but it can be worth it.”

That was certainly the case for Nova Glamping. He eventually left his job at Scotia Bank to focus entirely on the business.

But even with the background running a business, and managed a construction project before. And now he was doing one on an island.

“Construction on an island is a nightmare,” he said. “If you forget screws, guess what, Home Depot is like 45 minutes away.”

He learned that just about every contractor, inspector, or engineer were working on an island for their first time.

“You rarely find someone that says, ‘I’ve been doing islands all my life,’” Nasrallah laughed. 

Originally, he made the budget as small as he could, thinking geo domes wouldn’t be that expensive. But by the time they started, building material and transportation costs were at all-time highs. The logistics of getting people and materials to and from the island made it so that renting a helicopter was the cheaper way to go.  

Luckily, listening to the experts, and planning for the future is also important to Nasrallah. Even with all the other unexpected expenses.

For example, the decks doubled in price when an engineer visited, and advised him that they should be designed to withstand hurricanes, which are becoming increasingly common. 

“It was worth it,” he said. “We did spend more money on everything we did, but again, we looked at 10-20 years from now.”

This year they will be running 85% of the time on solar power, with active plans to be completely eco-friendly.

They were already looking for money for the project when they first made contact with CBDC Blue Water.

“The CBDC are the ones that were so into it,” Nasrallah said.

Nasrallah set up a meeting and didn’t know what to expect. He thought it would be helpful if they could finance any percentage of the project. They ended up providing a loan for the maximum amount possible.

“They really care about you as a business,” he said. “Not just how much money they’re going to receive from you. And that’s what made me actually build that trust with them, and just enjoy working with CBDC in general.”

After all the planning, budgeting, logistics, and hard work, they were finally ready to open. They had reservations lined up. But the Saturday of opening weekend ended up directly in the path of Hurricane Fiona. 

“We learned that in a hurricane, you have to move everything,” Nasrallah said.

The island turned back into a construction site, as crews moved everything off the island that they could. But Nasrallah stayed behind. He was going to test it firsthand.

Fiona made landfall shortly after 3:00 a.m. that night.

The cabin he was in shook. Much more than the spherical domes. 

“Everyone lost power in the city, but I didn’t,” he said. “Because we’re fully off-grid.”

The next morning he woke up, cleaned up a bit, and they were back on track.

The rest of the first season brought in over 100 reviews on Airbnb, all at 5-stars. They thought occupancy would stay at 50% for a while, but they were quickly booking up full months, and creating waitlists. Even Nasrallah was surprised.

“People really need these kinds of experiences,” he said. “People really want to be outside.”

The days of waking up in the middle of the night wondering why he got into this are now behind him. He’s hiring a full-time employee to stay on the island this season, and the next available weekend is already only in November, and the season hasn’t even started yet.

Now, whenever anyone asks about how to finance a project, he confidently speaks from experience. 

“If the project is in a rural community, I always tell them, ‘your best choice is go to the CBDC and meet with them.’ They’re always willing to listen. Even if you don’t have a business plan, they’re there to help you with a business plan. They’re just a great support in our community and our province.”

“It all goes back to giving people the experience... And giving people a way to explore Nova Scotia in a different way.” 

Ossama Nasrallah
Owner, Nova Glamping

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