St Lucia packs a lot into its 238 square miles and has big intentions too. In addition to its beautiful white beaches, banana plantations, coral reefs and tropical rainforest, it has grand plans for regeneration and redevelopment. This looks set to make it even more popular, not least with celebrity fans such as Amy Winehouse and Kelly Brook, both of whom have been spotted frolicking on the island in the last month.
Minister for tourism Allen Chastanet knows that for St Lucia to attract the same crowds and wealth as Barbados and Antigua it needs to protect its natural beauty but not rely on it alone. "As a destination, St Lucia's done well," he says, "but there's a lot of potential for growth." Which means incentives to encourage more hoteliers and resort developers to come to the island, sleek new marinas, and the replacement of nail-bitingly bad roads. This will do away with the tortuous route from the south of the island and Hewanorra International airport (also to be upgraded), to the north, where some of the most beautiful beaches can be found.
There are also plans to regenerate the harbour at Castries, and an ambitious idea to promote villages and artisan communities, creating employment for locals and a bigger draw for tourists. None of this, says Chastanet, will be allowed to impact on the island's rainforest or coastline. "No destination can stay the same – St Lucia can't be a time capsule," he says, "So we need to identify the aspects that make us special and use them as a platform to build on."
Such has the island's tourism increased, that British Airways recently started a direct service three times a week. One of the biggest areas of growth has been in residential development and it's this, along with better hotels and business facilities, that the government wants to capitalise on by giving incentives and tax breaks to overseas investors. The strategy is already making five-star developments more sought after. The Landings, a 230-unit beachfront resort near Rodney Bay, on the northwest coast, for example, has seen its best sales year so far. It's one of a number of high-grade residential developments aimed at the second-home market, though the developers expect many owners will end up living there.
Sales director Oliver Gobat refers to resorts such as his as "private residential communities", and says The Landings is one of the few beachfront developments on St Lucia where properties are freehold, because the land is reclaimed. "It's a very sociable, mixed community and most people have bought here because it's far cheaper than Barbados," he adds. Prices start at £374,000 for a large one-bedroom property, to around £2m for beachfront with three bedrooms, which is consistent with other upscale resorts on the island. You can buy non-resort homes at lower prices but they probably won't have a coastal location or facilities that would make them appeal to the rental market.
"St Lucia is a stunning location," says Gobat. "The island could easily become the outstanding success of the Caribbean."
The Landings: 001 758 452 0422, www.thelandingsstlucia.com
Caribbean Dreams Property: 01708 223 877, www.caribbeandreamsproperty.com
St Lucia: Buyer's guide
* Property investors have no capital gains, inheritance tax or VAT to pay.
* There are plans to change immigration policy in March 2009 to allow non-national owners investing from $350,000 (£237,000) in property to apply for residency.
* Direct flights are operated by BA and Virgin Atlantic and take around eight hours.
* According to the St Lucia tourist board, tourism grew by 10 per cent in the first half of 2008, while property prices are 40 to 60 per cent lower than Barbados.Reuse content