The Turks & Caicos islands are rapidly becoming a popular travel destination. The island nation has the third largest barrier reef system in the world. It is a playground for the elite and features some of the best beaches on the planet.
Tourism and offshore finance have now replaced salt production as the main sources of prosperity for this group of low-lying islands and cays, which is located near the Bahamas in the Caribbean.
Yet the islanders are acutely aware of what unruly tourism development has done to other destinations in the Caribbean and are keen not to follow this route.
One person who is very clear on what kind of tourism development the Turks and Caicos needs is the Chief Minister of the island nation, Michael Misick—his mantra—high-end, exclusive, sensitive developments that respect the pristine environment and draw in a certain kind of tourist.
At the recent Caribbean Marketplace in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Misick spoke to Breaking Travel News on where the Turks and Caicos is heading.
BTN: What does this year hold in store in terms of new products, a new direction. Where are things going?
MISICK: We are really excited about 2006. The season is off to a very good start—the hotels are very busy and we have a number of new products that will come on line this year. We have the first Amanresort, Amanyara in the Caribbean opening in March which is really going to be impressive, taking our product to a new level. We have the Ritz-Carlton resort under construction here and this should be ready in about 17 months. One of the things we are very excited about is hosting the World Travel Awards in September. We are looking forward to people coming and having fun and a great time.
BTN: What benefits will the World Travel Awards provide for your destination?
MISICK: The World Travel Awards rewards and represents excellence in the travel industry and so does the Turks and Caicos. Therefore it is about associating these two top brands together. Hosting the gala ceremony will lift the profile of the islands as well, and we are looking forward to that.
BTN: You are a hot Caribbean destination but has the Turks and Caicos cemented its image yet?
MISICK: We think the Turks and Caicos is the best-kept secret in the Caribbean. We are a destination that is not interested in mass-market appeal. We are interested in quality not quantity. We are certainly up and coming and we have a lot of investment in the hotel sector, but we want to balance that with protecting our environment. It is very important to us. We are after sustainable development and therefore we are looking to move forward at our own pace, not what the market decides. There are a lot of people in various markets who have heard of the Turks and Caicos but have not visited yet. We would like them to come and I hope that they will come.
BTN: You talked of more properties, will there be an associated increase in airlift?
MISICK: Spirit Airlines have already begun a new service flying direct from Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the U.S. to the Turks and Caicos. This represents the first low-cost carrier to fly here and hopefully this will help bring down the cost of flying here. A number of other carriers are looking to come here. We have a number of gateways in North America and we are looking at Europe as well.
BTN: How is it going with marketing the destination?
MISICK: The professionals at the Turks and Caicos Tourist Board have been doing an excellent job of marketing the destination and we have had great results. This season, like last season we are at full capacity. We have had two billion dollars of new investment in the tourism sector, which is testament to the demand. As we are bringing in new products, they fill up. So the question for us is how much development do we want? The challenge is not about getting people to come. It is about getting the right people to come.
BTN: What area of the market are you therefore focused upon?
MISICK: The high-end, niche market. We are a small country with limited resources, including human resources, which is worth noting. We do not have the numbers of people living here to be in a mass-market position. We also believe up-market goes hand-in hand with our desire to protect the environment. I believe the up-market tourist has more interest in the environment and protecting the environment.
BTN: You talk about the environment. It is known you have a conch festival and conch farm, explain?
MISICK: We have the world’s only conch farm. The conch plays an important role in the Turks and Caicos. You can have conch chowder, conch soup, conch fritters. It is an aphrodisiac so people come here to eat the conch, so they can go home and multiply!
BTN: What are your strategies for marketing the Turks and Caicos? What of your online presence?
MISICK: Word of mouth is a great asset, print is very important and the Internet is probably the most important tool for booking travel these days. We do not want to be everywhere because we want to be known as one of the best “up-market” destinations in the world. We still want to be the best kept secret. So do not tell too many people about us.