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Ralph Higgs

Minister of Tourism, Turks and Caicos

With a focus on developing the territory’s smaller family islands, as well as expanding ecotourism and business tourism, Turks and Caicos is defining itself among its Caribbean competitors as a destination that maintains its commitment to preserving its natural environment while still providing a top-of-the-line experience for visitors. Here, the Turks and Caicos’ Minister of Tourism discusses the chain of islands’ impressive growth over the years, its remarkable recovery after last years’ hurricanes, his views on the future of the tourism sector and the vast opportunities that the nation offers to discerning investors

You were appointed Minister of Tourism in 2016, and are now almost halfway through your term. What have been your biggest achievements so far and what are you biggest objectives for the upcoming two years?

I have been associated with Turks and Caicos tourism for the past 20 years. Over the years, we have seen tremendous growth across all aspects of tourism. We’ve seen increased arrivals, increased investment in the hotel industry, more offerings for our guests, an expansion of the culinary sector, and most importantly, we’ve seen our people embrace leadership in the Turks and Caicos tourism sector. I’m very pleased with how we’ve been able to position Turks and Caicos in the sector, having built strong familiarity with the Turks and Caicos name among a discriminating set of travellers who want to go beyond the ordinary.

I would like to send a strong and unambiguous message that Turks and Caicos is open for business

In 2017, tourism arrivals dropped 4% over the 2016 figures. What were the factors responsible for this decline and what are your expectations for this year?

It’s important to put things in perspective; the Caribbean region suffered tremendously from forces of nature, Turks and Caicos included. To only see a decrease of 4% after all that happened was a testament to the strength of the brand of Turks and Caicos. So while there was a decrease, all things considered, we count ourselves blessed and know that the brand is powerful and resilient. We have been able to pick ourselves up and restore confidence in our offerings across the island. Although we ended 2017 down, 2018 is off to a robust start and we believe we will make up ground this year to return to near double-digit growth by 2018; that is what the indicators are pointing to. I think we’re on good footing.

You mentioned natural disasters affecting the islands. How fully have you been able to recover from last years’ hurricanes? 

I would like to send a strong and unambiguous message that Turks and Caicos is open for business. While natural disasters occur in our region, they occur up and down the eastern seaboard of the United States as well. We are almost 100% recovered from the major storms. If you were to come to Turks and Caicos, unless you were told there was a storm in 2017, you would not know. We are going about our business of serving our guests.

It is said that an investment in TCI, particularly in real estate, can net a return on investment of 10% per annum

What strategies is the Ministry of Tourism employing to continue growth in the tourism sector while also maintaining the island’s natural beauty?

Everything we do in Turks and Caicos must be done in concert with our environment and what our ecosystem can support and sustain. We have beautiful diving, beaches, and natural attractions and we insist that manmade accommodations and facilities are built with the environment in mind. Because we are a chain of islands, we have some islands that are virtually untouched and we are going to do our best to make sure that all new development and investments take that into consideration. Environmental protection is enshrined in our country’s constitution. The environment must be taken into consideration for any project of any size.

In terms of developing projects, what has been the typical ROI for foreign investors in the country’s tourism industry?

Providenciales has attracted most of the inward investment to TCI thus far and it is evident that there is a tremendous return on investment. Many of the initial investors have repeated and expanded their investments time and time again. It is said in some circles that an investment in TCI, particularly in real estate, can net a return on investment of 10% per annum. That obviously has a whole lot to do with the strength of our economy. However, I want to encourage readers to take a look at our other family islands because there are many ground-floor opportunities that exist in Turks and Caicos. While there may be a greater layout of investment, if you are willing to consider the medium or long term, the return on investment can be tremendous. Because we have a very stable legal system, the US dollar is our official tender, and we are a British territory, investors can act with a tremendous sense of security that their investment is firmly grounded in a country with a stable economy and a stable rule of law.

Are there any incentives that the government provides for investors?

The government provides very lucrative incentives that depend on the scope and size of your investment. The government may provide land, investors enjoy low taxation rates; there are some very generous packages that the government provides investors. It should also be noted that these incentives are even more attractive if you are looking at the family islands, where you may receive 50-75% concessions.

Are there particular opportunities available for international investors? Where could investors be of value in the Turks and Caicos economy?

Because TCI is a small, growing country, almost every element of the economy could benefit from investment. One area is on the family islands, where there are a wealth of investment opportunities. The accommodation sector is attractive. We are also looking for investment in sites and attractions; we have some beautiful natural heritage sites where the government is keen to partner with the private sector. Likewise, investment in transportation is attractive. We have plans to develop a causeway to link our family islands and make them more accessible. That project is open to investors, will be executed through a public-private partnership and the government will bring concessions and creative formulas to create an environment conducive to foreign investment in the project. Another area for investment is in energy security – diversification into renewables is an area we are focused on and one that could be a huge opportunity for investors.

The government will be spending $3.3 million to boost the local tourism sector. How do you expect this investment to transform the industry and boost arrivals?

That is a direct investment by the government into the sector, however, we expect that overall investment number to increase as we engage in cooperative relationships with our private sector partners. With that investment, we intend to spread the word of Turks and Caicos further afield through print and digital public relation materials. This investment will be used very strategically and will certainly reap benefits for the islands.

Turks and Caicos is the way the world used to be—untouched, unspoiled, full of possibilities

Can you tell us about some of the niche sectors that the government would like to explore developing?

Over the years, we have positioned TCI as a luxury boutique type of beach destination. Now, we are focusing on the opportunities on our family islands. Ecotourism and the wedding and honeymoon sector are niches that we’ll be highlighting, in particular, this fiscal year. Anyone who would like to help us expand the honeymoon sector or help us develop our diving or eco-lodges would be most welcome.

Turks and Caicos is not only a luxury vacation destination but it also an international financial services centre. Do you see that there are opportunities for business tourism to grow?

Absolutely, and in fact, we have been working closely with the private sector for years to see how we can further develop that market. Just beyond the horizon are plans to build a small convention centre for the business tourism market. That may be a huge opportunity for the private sector to pursue. Investors looking to develop a convention centre would be favourably looked upon by the government. The convention centre is a direct opportunity available right now. We have had conversations but nothing binding as of yet.

As a British overseas territory, what makes Turks and Caicos attractive for British citizens to invest in and travel to?

We want to send a strong message to our British brothers and sisters that it is very easy for anyone from the UK to come to work, live, and invest in Turks and Caicos. We say come on down, come and enjoy and invest in your overseas territory.

What are the competitive advantages of TCI in comparison to its Caribbean neighbours?

There’s only one Turks and Caicos. While we are clearly in the Caribbean region, what makes us special is our people, our attitude, our openness, and the red carpet we roll out for business. We are a chain of islands, many of which are virtually untouched, so there are so many opportunities for investment. We are one of a kind.

How would you describe the spirit of TCI in one sentence?

Turks and Caicos is the way the world used to be—untouched, unspoiled, full of possibilities.