St Helena seeks to develop tourism sector
History may well prove to be one of St Helena’s most valuable export products. The tiny St Helena community wants more tourists as part of an economic revitalisation initiative but for that they need an airport. A South African company, Basil Read, started with the preparatory work earlier this year.
Currently under construction is the access to the site where the airport buildings will rise.
St Helena is desperately looking for investors but without any airlinks, this isolated community had to adopt a paradigm shift to move the island closer to the international economy. Building an airport is the first step.
Investment opportunities and private sector growth on the South Atlantic island are expected to boom in the lead up to the opening of the island’s first ever airport due in December 2015. Building has already begun following the signing of the construction contract at the end of 2011 between the British Government and Basil Read. St Helena, a British Overseas Territory with stability and transparency akin to the UK, has strong commercial and family links with South Africa and Cape Town in particular.
Currently attracting 2 000 tourists per year, St Helena can only be reached by boat, which takes five days from Cape Town. A large focus to encourage investors and promote economic growth on this 122 square kilometre island is to have a tourist cap on visitor numbers. This would be the maximum number of tourists allowed on the island per year in order to protect its unique ecosystem and maintain exclusivity of this exotic and spectacular high-value destination.
As part of the island’s 10 year Sustainable Development Plan, the St Helena Government has recently launched the 10 year Economic Development Plan which outlines their approach of opening up the island’s economy to investment and increased tourism, and thus to become financially self-sustaining. The main focus areas to enhance GDP growth are around land, immigration, tax, subsidies, government capacity and tourism.
To achieve the required growth in tourist numbers will demand the need for two to three cornerstone tourist developments, a few large and medium sized hotels and an improved island-wide tourism offering. Many opportunities exist for the private sector to build and run hotels, provide good quality restaurants as well as increase the tourism activities and experiences. All this combined with tourists staying for a week or more – think villa style winter escapes – means that St Helena should be able to sustain a daily flight to the island. This would also open it up to short stays as an add-on to a trip to South Africa for foreign visitors.
“Construction of the airport, combined with a proactive approach to growing our tourism sector and developing the overall economy, means that St Helena aims to be able to largely finance its own budget by 2022 without any need for overseas aid,” says Mike Dean, St Helena Tourism Development Executive.
Through large-scale investment, the tourism sector is seen as critical to developing the private sector. The Economic Development Plan requires the private sector to grow modestly, with a 10-20% increase in the number of businesses and a substantial 30-40% increase in on-island private sector jobs. Now is the prime window for investors to identify and secure investment and business opportunities in the three and a half years ahead of the airport opening at the end of 2015.