Turks & Caicos has enjoyed a bumper year for tourism in 2012, as it prepares to welcome the leading lights of the travel industry to its sunny shores for the World Travel Awards on September 14th.
While this growth can be attributed in part to new developments taking place on island and new airlift coming on stream, the raw and pristine beauty of the destination remains its prime selling point.
The Turks and Caicos Islands boast 230 miles of the world’s best beaches, and the second largest coral reef in the world. Visitors can enjoy a wide range of water sports including snorkeling, scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, sailing, kite-boarding, jet skiing and swimming.
On land the destination offers equally alluring attractions including fine-dining, restorative spas, golf, tennis, horseback riding, duty-free shopping and a casino.
With year-round sunshine and direct flights from the U.S., Canada and London, Turks and Caicos offers something for everyone – families, adventure-seekers, honeymooners and friends.
“2011 has seen record visitor arrivals to the TCI. Our islands happily welcomed over one million tourists (cruise and stay-over) to our shores,” explains Ralph Higgs, director of tourism for Turks & Caicos.
“2012 is showing as much promise as 2011 and by year’s end 2012 we expect to see increases over last year. In fact, since 2009, TCI have seen double digit growth annually.” Higgs added.
According to Higgs, this growth can be attributed to both the success of the cruise port in Grand Turk as well as recently added airlift from the United States and Canada over the last two years.
These flights include JetBlue from New York, Continental from Newark, New Jersey and in season flights by American Airlines from Dallas, Fort Worth and Air Canada from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
What is even more impressive is that visitor arrivals continue to climb regardless of the rocky economy and despite the controversial rise Air Passenger Duty (APD) in the UK – one of Turks & Caicos’ major source markets.
According to the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), APD – which was first introduced by British Government in 1994 - has been a contributing factor to a decline in the number of British holidaymakers visiting the Caribbean in recent years.
Due to the way the tax is calculated, British passengers flying to the Caribbean currently contribute more in APD than those flying to California or Hawaii.
Higgs explains: “While we have not experience any decline in arrivals from the UK, we have not realised the projected growth that we have forecasted before the advent of APD.
“We believe however, that in the long-term, it will have serious adverse effects on our region and on our islands.”
He goes on to explain: “Not only is the new tax hurting the Caribbean, it is discouraging outbound travel from the UK thereby generating less revenue for the UK Government.”
While APD is still a sore spot for many Caribbean tourism operators and suppliers, Turks is looking on the bright side.
To accommodate its continued rise in visitor figures, a US$10m redevelopment of passenger facilities at Providenciales International Airport, which accounts for half the passengers that flock to the shores of Turks, has just been announced.
The planned expansion, will nearly double the size of the terminal to better accommodate the 500,000 passengers who pass through the Airport each year.
It will increase in size from 51,462 to 92,321 square feet.
Work is scheduled to begin later this year and is expected to be completed in 2014.
“Recently the Government announced expansion to our International Airport,” explains Higgs. “The expansion will see the current terminal doubled in size, which would allow us to more comfortably handle the projected growth in arrivals to our islands”
Once completed passengers will be able to enjoy expanded check in counter areas and self-check-in facilities, additional bathroom facilities, larger retail space for shops and restaurants, and improved medical amenities.
The first phase of works will include the construction of a new traffic circulation system, an extension to the existing west car park, and extension of the departure Lounge.
The second phase will continue with the extension on the international check in area, security check point as well as the arrivals hall.
The third and final phase will include the domestic departures and arrivals area, completion of car park and aesthetics, including water features.
“We are embarking on a journey of fundamental change in the way we conduct business and welcome tourists to the Turks and Caicos Islands,” said John Smith, chief executive of Turks and Caicos Airports Authority.
“Our terminal expansion project will not only offer better facilities for passengers, but provide us with the room to expand over the next 15 years.”
AsTurks looks to open up to new European markets, travellers have been making the most of the warm weather and in a new trend, they are visiting the islands all year round.
“Travellers are taking advantage of the summer periods and we no longer see a steep decline in passenger figures for August and September, but travellers are coming all year around and that is exactly the boost that our economy needs,” Smith revealed.