What would you say is the main purpose of the CIP?
The CIP was developed in order to provide an incentive for the return of foreign direct investment to the country. In doing this, we target investment for specific industries. Tourism, for example, which is our main source of GDP, is prioritised. We have approved several hotel clients in an attempt to increase our room count and attract more air traffic to Antigua and Barbuda. We do not allow so many private sales because we prefer to use the programme to encourage growth in tourism.
We also try to channel funds toward areas which we believe will help diversify and develop the country’s economy. For example, there is an alternative energy project, the PV Energy project, currently being financed by the CIP. For too many years we have been a too limited as an economy, we have to begin branching out.
What are some of the main projects and investment opportunities that you want to underline for the readers of Newsweek magazine?
Tourism, as I’ve said, is the biggest contributor to GDP, and there is still opportunity for investment in terms of both the construction and the operation of hotels. There are also still opportunities in the alternative energy sector. The government has committed to meeting 20% of our overall consumption with renewables by 2020. There is also the intention to increase this percentage going forward, lessening our reliance on fossil fuels, so there will be many more opportunities for investment.
We also have serious issues with water. Not long ago, we had more than 18 months of drought which completely dried up our surface water. There is always that risk in this country. Ordinarily we only get about 45 inches per year and that is in decline, so there will be opportunities for investors to partner with the government in the production of potable water.
How have the beginnings been for the CIP? Have you exceeded expectations?
When we began, our number of applications quickly grew to about 60 per month, which led to us doubling our staff and implementing application management software. Numbers have since reduced, and we now receive between 30 and 35 applications per month. This is despite both Grenada and St. Lucia following suit with their citizenship programmes. These are similar deals, with the exception that ours allows visa-free access to Canada. Ours is the only one with this benefit.
Considering that those of Dominica and St. Lucia are half the cost, we are doing well in relation to the competition. We refuse to reduce our fee. We take the view that it is about quality rather than quantity, and we ensure our international partners that the Antiguan and Barbudan passport is given only to those who deserve it.
Can you tell us about your marketing strategy? What are you doing to attract CIP investors?
The single most important market is China. It is, in fact, the most important market in the industry globally. We appeal to our existing markets by building on already existing relationships with agents and institutions on the ground in China, the Middle East, and to a lesser extent Russia. We attend various global events in order to have face-to-face contact with these agents. We do not target applicants directly, we don’t think there is value for money in that approach.
We have our own conference, which was inaugurated in May of last year. The second will occur in May of this year. Last October, we published our own in-house magazine. We are doing a number of things, but the reality is that if you are not at these events, you are not in the conversation.
I would like to finish by asking you to provide a closing message to the readers of Newsweek magazine and subscribers to the Voices of Leaders Business Guide. What would you like to say to them?
Antigua and Barbuda is open for investment. The CIP is one of the tools we use to develop the economy, but there are opportunities outside of us. I want to invite your readers to think about investment. There are many opportunities to be found in emerging markets like ours, and we have in place the framework to help you get a good return on your investment.