The Caribbean islands of Antigua and Barbuda aim to emulate the success of Dubai in becoming a global tourism hub, with plans to build 10,000 hotel rooms and establish a direct flight from the emirate.
The islands are targeting a big increase in tourism to fund a broader economic diversification plan.
“We have set a target of 10,000 rooms for the next five years, which is a very ambitious target but again using Dubai as an inspiration,” said prime minister Gaston Browne in an interview with The National. “If we build 10,000 more rooms we get a million more tourists and a billion dollars in extra revenues. It will change the economic fortunes of my country.”
This week he is meeting with local investors to drum up interest in funding hotel projects.
“Already we have over US$3 billion in investment pledges so we are assured of at least 5,000 rooms. Now we are on a push to get the other 5,000.”
Antigua and Barbuda is one of a number of Commonwealth countries that offer citizenship in return for investment.
Property developers are increasingly targeting investors from the Middle East seeking the security of a second passport and visa-free access to countries such as the UK and Canada.
However, Mr Browne downplayed the attraction of investing in Antigua and Barbuda as purely a passport play.
“This issue goes beyond a passport,” he said. “We have many investors who are not looking for a passport – they are looking for a safe place to invest.
“That is what Antigua offers, it’s one of the safest places on the planet. ”
The prime minister was in Dubai yesterday to attend an investment conference where film star Robert De Niro also spoke.
The 73-year-old actor and producer is a regular visitor to the Caribbean country and is also investing in a major resort project on Barbuda island in partnership with Australian tycoon James Packer.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the country as it seeks to expand its tourism sector is attracting direct flights from international hubs such as Dubai.
“It’s a chicken and egg situation,” he said.
“We need more rooms to create the economies of scale in order to attract an airline like Emirates.”
He said he will this week hold discussions with Emirates to develop those plans. “We may have to start with a fifth freedom flight.
“Even if we have to share space with other countries in the Caribbean in order to build demand, we will do so.”
Currently passengers from the UAE wishing to travel to the islands would fly via a US hub such as Miami.
An Emirates spokesperson said: “Emirates has no firm plans to fly to Antigua at this time, although we constantly monitor the performance of our existing routes as well as evaluate new route possibilities.”
Follow The National's Business section on Twitter