Last year, Australian billionaire James Packer and Hollywood A-Lister Robert De Niro announced plans to acquire and renovate Barbuda’s K-Club Hotel into a five-star resort, to the tune of US$250 million. After the proposal was submitted, Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne made De Niro a Special Economic Envoy, with the aim of attracting more investment and high-end tourism to the Caribbean state.
Members of Middle Eastern royalty are also joining the tourism game — Sheikh Tariq Bin Faisal Al Qassimi of Dubai, a member of the ruling family of Sharjah, signed a memorandum of agreement with the Prime Minister to invest in a US$120 million luxury resort. The new resort will be located on 36 acres of prime beachfront land on Morris Bay, according to a government release.
Sun Yinhuan, the Chinese billionaire who owns Yida Group, started the tourism investment trend in 2013, when he signed an agreement to build a US$1 billion mega-resort in Antigua. Construction on the massive 1,600-acre residential and commercial project, called Singulari, will include marinas, homes, golf courses and the Caribbean’s largest casino. The land was owned by disgraced Texan financier Allen Stanford, who is currently serving a 110-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2012 of running a global Ponzi scheme.
The surge of interest from ultra-high net worth (UHNW) individuals, defined as people with at least US$30 million in assets, has made its mark on the country. The Caribbean UHNW population increased by 2.1 percent last year as wealthy individuals flocked to the tropical paradise, according to Wealth-X. There is a reason for this sudden popularity: in October 2013, Antigua and Barbuda became the latest country to legalise a citizenship-by-investment route, joining its peers Barbados and St. Kitts & Nevis. Investors receive not only a liberal passport, but also a low tax jurisdiction and potential new business opportunities.
Pearns Point, Antigua
To gain an Antigua and Barbuda passport, there are three avenues — a US$1.5 million investment into a business, a US$400,000 purchase in a government-sanctioned property project or the most popular route, a US$250,000 donation to a national development fund. Successful applicants enjoy visa-free travel to 130 countries including the UK, Canada, Hong Kong and Singapore. Applicants must maintain their investment for five years and reside in the country for a minimum of 35 days annually.
According to Antigua and Barbuda’s Citizenship by Investment head, Don Myatt, around half the applicants so far are Chinese; the rest hail from the Middle East, with a small number of Europeans and Americans. “China has a large middle class of people who have a few million dollars and are looking for economic security,” said Myatt. “Travel with a Chinese passport can be a huge hindrance. You can’t just fly into London for a business meeting.” Myatt added that he anticipates as many as 200 applications per year. The process takes about three months, and most applicants are successful, he said. According to The Wealth-X Caribbean Wealth & Investment Report 2015, there are over 1,155 UHNW individuals living in the Caribbean, more than 67 percent of whom have relocated from another country.
Agents say the Caribbean also offers investment value – luxury resort home prices in the Caribbean remain below their 2008 highs, but have climbed 9 percent in the past year, and are forecast to continue rising. Developers are gearing up for a marketing push to sell some of their plushest properties. Dutch investor Albert Hartog and his partners Ben de Jonge and Rene Boon are behind Pearns Point, a US$300 million luxury development including a boutique hotel and 60 high-end condos. Designed by world-famous architects Piet Boon and Brian D’Ornellas of OBM International, the resort is already 20 percent sold. “I have never seen such beautiful beaches in my life,” said Piet Boon. “Waterfront properties are quite rare these days and becoming much more valuable.”
Rendering of Pearns Point, Antigua
The appeal of the Caribbean state is being further enhanced by government initiatives. In a bid to bolster tourism, the government has improved 4G Internet connectivity, as well as the roads around the islands, and overhauled St John’s Port. There’s also the new 23,000-square-metre VC Bird International Airport terminal, due to officially open this year. It is designed for a throughput of 3 million passengers by the year 2030, up from the current 860,000, bringing in whole new streams of passengers, said the Ministry of Tourism.
“Our major source markets are the USA, UK, Europe and Canada, but the Ministry of Tourism has undertaken negotiations with multiple airlines to ensure that there is increased air access capacity for the anticipated increase in demand,” a Ministry of Tourism spokesperson said. “This will lead to an increase in visitor arrivals and will support the new hotel room stock.”