New York - After Europe, the Caribbean is the second-most popular getaway for the wealthiest 1 percent and 5 percent of travellers: 47 percent are considering a vacation there in the next one to two years, according a report released by Resonance Consultancy.
But with luxury villas and resorts popping up like pieces on a Monopoly board, spread out amongst 7 000-some idyllic islands, which countries and destinations are the most sought-after for a little off-the-desk time?
To find out, the firm surveyed 1 664 travellers, with the top 1 percent defined as those with annual income above $400 000 or a net worth above $8 million. The 5 percent were classified as earning at least $200 000 per year or having $2 million or more. Destinations not appearing on this list (e.g. Cuba, Curaçao) received 3 percent or less of the response. They still may be desirable to the wealthy (see: Mustique), they’re just not being visited as much yet.
Below, a ranked list of where America’s richest 5% of people like to vacation in the Caribbean.
The Bahamas may be touristy, but with 700 islands, the nation still offers some of the best chances for unadulterated escape, especially if you’re into the sport of bonefishing or the sport of private-villa buying; Johnny Depp, Nicholas Cage, Shakira, Roger Waters, and Eddie Murphy all have had a go.
Kimberly Wilson-Wetty, co-president/owner of Valerie Wilson Travel, a New York-based agency specialising in high-net-worth clientele, also credits easy accessibility for the Bahamas' popularity - commercial flights versus private jet versus yacht - and standout resorts like Paradise Island’s One&Only Ocean Club. All the press surrounding the Baha Mar project (before the bankruptcy), helped too. “The luxury traveller is really driven to the hotel when they’re choosing the island - especially in the Caribbean,” says Wilson-Wetty, “There aren’t just a lot of ‘luxury islands’. Baha Mar brought the Bahamas a new limelight, an element of intrigue.”
US Virgin Islands
Does this mean at least the American Territories are great again? St Croix is where Martha Stewart jaunts to when she doesn’t want to be bothered and Joe Biden just spent New Year’s Eve here. Aside from pure natural beauty (particularly in St John), Wilson-Wetty says that being in the US might offer another enticement: it’s perceived as safer. At a certain wealth level, picnicking on a public beach isn’t really a possibility, she says, “unless it’s organised with the hotel and there’s a butler waiting. In an uncertain world, you know what to expect.”
Tiny, boho-chic Anguilla has the best dining in the Caribbean, with over 100 multi-starred restaurants. But what really puts it up the list: privacy. Tourism here doesn’t happen in hordes or on cruise ships with paparazzi documenting the scene. “Anguilla is not for those seeking validation,” said Cardigan Connor, a parliamentary secretary for tourism, “Our low-key, understated vibe is what attracts our celebrity clientele.” (Indeed, among just the 1 percent, the country ranks No.2.) To add to the bliss: the only Turkish hammam in the Caribbean opened recently at the new Zemi Beach House.
Food is also a draw to this bifurcated slice of paradise, according to Wilson-Wetty. (Mind-bogglingly beautiful beaches and green-hilled vistas certainly help, too.) There's also the unique, curiosity-inspiring geographical setup: In a rare example of two countries behaving like adults, the borderless French and Dutch division of the island allows for two unique experiences in one sunny package.
The world’s new favourite tax haven may be in the Nevada desert, but the super-yacht scene (whoops, Paul Allen) and billionaire-led development isn’t going anywhere. Not with plenty of white-sand beaches, the only AAA Five Diamond ranked restaurant in the Caribbean (Blue by Eric Ripert), and a brand new all-suite boutique hotel by the islands beloved spa, Le Soleil d’Or, opening in February. Plus stingrays. Many, many stingrays.
Aruba got a little hokey in the 1980s and ’90s after massive tourism developments and a certain Beach Boys song introduced this small tropical paradise to the hoi polloi, so much so that in 2007, the government moved to slow the growth. This past June, the island announced progress on its $1 billion “revitalisation and beautification” investment programme, including hotel and airport upgrades to recapture its exclusive feel.
Turks and Caicos
The same people who love Tulum also love Turks and Caicos (direct flights from New York City can do that), a favourite of jet-setting urban dwellers. “What makes a Caribbean island popular one year over another all goes back to human nature,” says Wilson-Wetty. “Was there good PR? Was there personal feedback and peer-to-peer endorsements?”
British Virgin Islands
The 60 islands that make up the BVI are all about yachts and sailing (and stunning wreck diving) - “a bygone era of romance and natural wonder” in the official words of its tourism official. Also: Sir Richard Branson. Millionaires whose yachts are on-order can charter his Necker Belle (for $80 000 a week with crew) for a sail to Necker Island (a $78 000-a-night private island), or his three-villa estate Moskito Island ($47 300 a night) off Virgin Gorda. “The Virgin Islands are renowned for its secluded and private setting, which is part and parcel to its appeal,” says the territory’s rep.
There’s much more to Puerto Rico than Old San Juan, a favourite stop of mass-market cruise ships. Beautiful golf resorts like the Royal Isabela and the beaches on the island of Vieques rival those of the South Pacific. In short: it needs a PR boost to climb in ranks. “What luxury properties on there? Are they well-known? What does the island offer?” Wilson-Wetty says are the questions to ask.
More Carolina coast than Caribbean, really, the pink-sanded British overseas territory will play host to the Americas Cup in 2017 and is in a sweet spot for second homes - John Lennon and David Bowie (R.I.P.) both owned here; Mark Twain once famously described it as better than heaven. With Marcus Samuelsson’s new restaurant at the Fairmont’s Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, the food is getting there, too.
Despite the re-opening of Hotel Le Toiny and the new, immaculately sexy Le Cheval Blanc, Saint Barthélemy is a bit down on this super rich list, a surprise to Wilson-Wetty. “It’s like France in the Caribbean. It’s got bars, great restaurants, bars, nightlife,” she says. “St Bart’s is used as a benchmark of what many other islands wish they had.” Maybe it’s just gotten too glamorous for its own good: New Year's 2016 saw Roman Abramovich and Larry Gagosian’s Leonardo DiCaprio-hosted bash at La Plage pitting the Black Keys against Diddy and his S.S. Oasis yacht party with guests like Rihanna, Russel Simmons, and Rick Rubin.
If the Kardashians scorched this half-island nation on the pop-culture map with their stay at Casa de Campo in 2012, the lustre hasn’t lasted (or perhaps that trip planted a “detour” sign for a while, who can say). The D-R may get a second wind once word spreads of the design-lush Amanera, a 25-casita Aman Resort opened this January on 2 170 acres of beach and jungle on the country’s north coast.
As for sister country Haiti, with which it shares a border? It’s the least popular Caribbean destination among the very rich, with only two percent of the top five percent planning on visiting and zero percent of the very wealthiest.
St Kitt’s & Nevins
Although a bit unknown to the wider world, people like Oprah and Meryl Streep have come to these sister islands, separated by a two-mile channel, to lay low. St Kitts is where you’ll find golf clubs, restaurants, bars, casinos, and beautiful beaches. Nevis - which has a Four Seasons but not one streetlight to speak of - is where you go to really get away from it all.
It may be the most business-friendly country in the region, but with a nasty record on human rights (particularly LGBT) and a reputation for Girls Gone Wild stoner antics, Jamaica seems to be a tough sell for the super-rich. A few lavish resorts like Goldeneye (of glorious Bond fame) and Half Moon can’t do all the heavy lifting.
A prime example of paradise having a capacity - St. Lucia and its twin pitons may stun, but without more high-end resorts like the Viceroy Sugar Beach or Jade Mountain, there’s only so many stays the wealthy can do.
“Barbados has struggled in the press recently,” says Wilson-Wetty. “From the identity of an island, it’s still seen as a little more old-school, not as trendy or hip - it has a personality complex.” Like St Lucia, more really great luxury hotels could help it move up the list. “You’re either in Sandy Lane or a private villa. There’s that and then a gap.”