Caribbean: more than just beaches

Golf property aimed at more affluent property investors in the Caribbean is expected to weather the global economic downturn and continue to attract investment…

On several islands major golf projects are under construction and despite the fact that tourism numbers are expected to fall this year the industry is confident that the luxury end of the market is less risky.

'Golf is a big part of island life now. There is a local market and an international market and that along with big names will mean people will still want to invest,' said Mari Jo Laborde, Deputy Executive Director of marketing for the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.

In its 2009 campaign the company is emphasizing that there is more to the Caribbean than beaches. The fact that internationally known names are involved in developments including Donald Trump, St Regis and Mandarin Oriental helps.

Indeed Trump International's 500 villa golf club and residence project is understood to be selling well and the first residences are due to open in March. Investors include actress Jennifer López. It is aimed at the luxury market with marble floors and granite fittings.

Golf is one of three niche markets along with water sports and food that the tourism authority expects to do well in coming years.

But it is a risky one too as the tourism chiefs admit they expect a three to five per cent decline in visitors in the near future.

They are pinning their hopes on it being budget tourists on package tours and cruises that will fall off and that the affluent visitors are less vulnerable to the credit crunch.

'Golf is an investment in the future. It can take years and in some cases decades for these courses to open. These golf courses are major undertakings across hundreds and hundreds of acres,' said Peter Finch, Senior Editor of Golf Digest magazine.

On the other hand by the time some of these luxury developments open the world economic downturn could be over. Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and Regent Hotels & Resorts new luxury hotels are not due to open until 2011.