Tourism - A Dynamic Industry

By Director of Tourism - Ralph Higgs

Tourism is the engine that drives our economy. A phenomenon of the last fifteen years, the trend has been upward, onward and forward since 1985 and we will undoubtedly remain a tourism-oriented economy well into the 21st century. The primary reason for our current success is evident in our slogan, “Beautiful By Nature.” We possess what affluent North Americans and Europeans value most in a Caribbean holiday… a benevolent climate, beautiful and clean beaches, pollution free air, surrounding oceans with every conceivable hue of blue, and an array of assets that tend to start with the 19th letter of the alphabet, but are not limited to: sun, sea, sand, scuba and super friendly people.

Word-of-mouth is the most effective mechanism for attracting tourists to a destination and it is certainly helping us in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Many tourists have readily disclosed that the main reason that they chose the Turks and Caicos for their holiday was because they knew someone who visited the TCI who had nothing but good things to say about their holiday. We also have a remarkably high number of repeat visitors. Over and over again we hear, “I am not sure why, but I’ve fallen in love with the place!” This may explain why an increasing number of expatriates prefer the serenity and sanctuary of our Islands as a retirement haven.

In my work with the Tourist Board as Assistant Director, I have had conversations with hundreds of tourists. During many of these conversations, tourists tend to emphasize the friendliness of our people and their feeling of safety in our country. I believe this may be due to the fact that we have not allowed high-rise “over-development, which has resulted in a country with the lowest crime rate in the Caribbean, if not in the world.

Certainly many tourists are attracted by our underwater world. Although other Caribbean destinations offer scuba diving as a leisure activity, none compare with our 200 miles of virgin reefs. This includes the world’s largest lagoon enclosing coral reef structure, the Caicos Banks, and the most spectacular undersea wall in the Caribbean, just off the western shore of our capital island, Grand Turk. You could literally dive at a different site in our Islands every day for the rest of your life and not see it all.

We can also be proud of the level of protection that we offer our oceanic environment. Our underwater parks are alive with almost every imaginable species of tropical marine life.

With a relatively small fishing industry, and successive Governments that have not permitted the operation of huge commercial vessels which extract everything in their path, deep sea fishing and sport fishing have developed into a major tourist activity which has consistently resulted in record catches. Turks and Caicos compares favorably with any destination in the Caribbean with the size and quantity of large, pelagic species.  These species include various types of billfish, and a wide variety of reef fishes and sports species, such as the feisty Bonefish, which swarm on our shallow banks.

The United States and Canada continue to provide our largest number of visitors, although Europe is moving into a significant third place. Our limited marketing and promotional budget has allowed us to barely scratch the surface of the huge North American and European markets.

Currently, there are up to 38 international flights into the Islands each week. American Airlines has three daily flights from Miami and offers twice weekly flights from New York’s JFK airport. This is expected to increase to four weekly flights later this year. Both Air Jamaica and Bahamas Air offer weekly flights to Providenciales. In addition, British Airways and Air Canada both offer a weekly charter service from London, England and Toronto, Canada, respectively. Finally, a variety of charter carriers arrive from New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto and other major North American cities.

It is undeniable that Providenciales (“Provo”) is the focus of the bulk of our recent tourism boom. This is readily apparent in TCI’s largest airport, Providenciales International Airport, which underwent a multimillion-dollar improvement and expansion of its terminal building and runway. However, other Islands, such as North Caicos, with a new control tower (pending) and recently installed runway lighting, will inevitably attract development, spurred on by Provo’s success. Another example is the remarkable, five-star, Parrot Cay Resort, which opened in 1998 and has developed a reputation as a scheduled hideaway-of-choice for international celebrities.

Our Tourist industry’s statistics continue to impress. In the last eight years the number of tourists visiting our shores has climbed an average of 12.5% per annum.

The Turks and Caicos Islands is experiencing growth in summer arrival too. Due to our stable political environment and reputation as an international tax haven, we enjoy a remarkably high number of off-season visitors and professionals who fly here year-round to engage in international business, using the TCI as their base.

The nearly 200 square miles of the Turks and Caicos archipelago is larger than all the remaining British Crown Colonies in the Caribbean put together. Our tourist industry will undoubtedly continue to expand. One reason is that we possess the ultimate waterfront - some 230 miles of white sand beaches which Conde Nast magazine considers the best in the world.

With new properties going up every year, we offer sun-seekers an ever-expanding variety of places to stay. One can choose a quaint, historical roadside Inn on Grand Turk, a true hideaway on Salt Cay, a secluded property on South Caicos or one of the world-class resort hotels on Provo, such as Beaches Turks and Caicos, Club Med Turquoise or the Allegro Resort and Casino. Alternatively, one can select a luxury condominium in Provo with a style perfectly adapted to the Islands’ environment, properties such as The Sands at Grace Bay, Coral Gardens, Ocean Club or Point Grace. On our other islands, one may prefer one of the three properties on North Caicos or the Blue Horizons on Middle Caicos (our largest Island).

There is little doubt that developers will continue to be attracted to our Islands. Hotels and resorts will continue to be developed. The industry will expand exponentially, creating short-term construction contracts and long-term employment for Islanders, as well as almost unlimited opportunities for entrepreneurs, both local and expatriate. To succeed, we must accept the challenge of competing in the global economy of the new millennium. The Ministry of Tourism, the Tourist Board and the Financial Services Industry will have to expand our services to meet the demands of this dynamic industry and create new and innovative promotions to highlight the diversity of our tourism product. Finally, our ultimate task should continue to be to make our Turks and Caicos Islands synonymous with one of the most appealing, safe, environmentally protected, up-scale, Caribbean island destinations.