With summer approaching, many of us are dreaming of the soft sandy beaches and shining blue shallows promised by sunny Caribbean islands but for some lucky people, these exotic islands are home all year round. Made up of over 700 islands, reefs, islets and cays, the Caribbean promises a variety of treasures both on and off its shores.
It seems that these islands are so relaxed their almost cut off from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world. This impression of seclusion is largely a tourist-friendly illusion, however; the Carribean plays more of a role on the world stage than holiday-goers may expect. So what boosts these island’s economies? What makes them crucial on the world stage?
Historically, most Caribbean islands belonged to a variety of European colonies. However, since achieving independence and/or autonomy, many Caribbean islands have managed to establish themselves competitively in the world economy. Undeniably, tourism is the industry that has flourished the most in the region but many of these islands are also agricultural strongholds, or have opened up to manufacturing and financial industries.
The following list has been drawn up according to data collected by the World Bank estimating the GDP per capita of each island between 2009 and 2013. It ranks the top ten richest Caribbean islands from lowest to highest. Although some of the GDP figures may seem low, they present promise for a region that has undergone huge development over the past two decades after a history of struggle.
10. Grenada – $10, 928 GDP per capita
Grenada has a small, open economy that’s largely tourism-based. Approximately 69% of the island’s GDP emanates from the service industry. Over the past twenty years, the economy has shifted from being dependent on agriculture to being dependent on the services. However, the island remains a key exporter of spices, and is the second biggest exporter of nutmeg in the world. It also exports cocoa, bananas and citrus fruits. Grenada has honed in on the rising demand for eco-tourism and provides a series of eco-friendly guesthouses. It also attracts visitors looking for beach and water sports holidays.
9. St Vincent and the Grenadines – $11, 047 GDP per capita
The island where The Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed does not gather its riches from gold-filled treasure chests, but from agriculture. Bananas alone account for more than 60% of the work force, and 50% of merchandise exports. Though this boosts the island’s GDP at the moment, reliance on this single crop makes the economy extremely vulnerable to external factors such as natural disasters and plant disease. St Vincent and the Grenadines’ tourism industry is growing, though, as it’s a particularly attractive destination for yachting enthusiasts and golfers. A new airport is currently under construction on the island to improve accessibility and encourage the stability of the tourism industry.
8. St Lucia – $11, 427 GDP per capita
Traditionally, St Lucia gained most of its riches from banana cultivation. However, in October of 2010, Hurricane Tomas battered many of St Lucia’s banana crops which, once recovered, were then largely hit with black sigatoka disease. A decrease in the pricing of bananas as a result of increased competition from Latin America has also thwarted export figures. As a result, the island has had to turn towards other industries. Thankfully, this the emergence of a prosperous tourism industry has bolstered the economy. The island has also attracted foreign investment in petroleum storage and transshipment.
7. Dominica – $12, 426 GDP per capita
A mere 6 years ago, in 2008, Dominica had the lowest GDP of any of the East Caribbean states. Since, however, things have turned around for the island. Agriculture – particularly banana crops – are central to this regained prosperity. Banana production employs a third of the population. However, in response to a change in European Union banana trade preferences, Dominica has placed emphasis on the production of coffee, aloe vera, exotic fruits and manufactured soaps to remain competitive on the export market. Tourism has also taken off (though slowly), presenting itself as a particularly appealing destination for eco-tourists. It offers a gorgeous array of mountains, hot springs, waterfalls and fresh water lakes which have earned it the enticing nickname of ‘Nature Isle of the Caribbean’.
6. St Kitts and Nevis – $18, 384 GDP per capita
The twin-island federation of St Kitts and Nevis prospers primarily thanks to tourism and export-oriented manufacturing, as well as agriculture, with approximately 39% of the islands’ land reserved to crops (primarily devoted to sugarcane and peanuts). The service industry currently accounts for an estimated 75% of GDP, highlighting how crucial the tourist industry has been to St Kitts and Nevis’s economy. The islands also offers an economic citizenship by investment, offering passports and visas in exchange for monetary investments.
5. Antigua and Barbuda – $19, 640 GDP per capita
An ideal dual-island for luxury holidays, Antigua’s economy prospers thanks to its tourism industry. In 2009 the island’s economy was hit hard by the economic recession which decreased the number of visitors to the island but in past years tourism has picked up again: in 2013, it accounted for approximately 60% of GDP and 40% of investments. Antigua and Barbuda’s agricultural production is geared towards the domestic market, but faces the threat of a limited water supply and a labour shortage, caused by the lure of higher wages in tourism and construction. Though tourism brings wealth to the island, it’s also threatening local produce meaning that the country will have to rely increasingly on imports from other countries.
4. Barbados – 26, 488 GDP per capita
Part of the British Empire up until 1966, since gaining independence Barbados has transformed itself from a low-income economy highly dependent on sugar production, into a well developed economy built on tourism and the offshore sector. Currently, the island has the third largest stock exchange in the Caribbean region. Nonetheless, a 2012 study with the Caribbean Development Bank revealed that 20% of Bajans live in poverty, and nearly 10% cannot meet basic daily food needs. This suggests that despite its growing economy, marked internal inequalities have yet to be resolved.
3. Trinidad and Tobago – $26, 550 GDP per capita
In November of 2011, Trinidad and Tobago was removed from the OECD’s list of developing countries. Today, it is the third richest Caribbean island. The petroleum industry lies at the heart of Trinidad and Tobago’s newly flourishing economy: oil and gas generate approximately 40% of GDP and 80% of exports. The manufacturing industry also plays an important role in sustaining the economy, as well as the tourism industry (the latter less so than most Caribbean islands).
2. Puerto Rico – $27, 677 GDP per capita
Puerto Rico is the most competitive economy in Latin America, with an economy primarily driven by the manufacturing industry: 46% of GDP is derived from manufacture. The most manufactured products are pharmaceuticals, electronics, textiles and petrochemicals. Poor in natural resources however, the island is very dependent on exterior trade with the US, Ireland and Japan for materials. This means that the Puerto Rican economy is highly sensitive to the fluctuations of the world economy. However, the archipelago also has a thriving services and tourist industry developed around the island’s natural beauty.
1. Bahamas – $31, 116 GDP per capita
The Bahamas soars to the top of our list thanks to its prosperous tourism industry. The idyllic island paradise makes the most of its natural splendour, attracting visitors from all around the world to its sandy shores. With an estimated 5.7 million tourist arrivals in 2012, it is one of the most-visited Caribbean islands. Tourism boosts the Bahamian economy massively, accounting for 60% of GDP and providing employment for over half of the island’s population. The Bahamas is also the third richest country in the Americas, following the United States and Canada. To boot, the economy boasts a flourishing financial services industry which accounts for around 15% of GDP.