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Barbuda 2.0: Rebuild devastated island into a modern tourist city

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The devastation by Hurricane Irma of Barbuda, the sister island of Antigua, and the potential to rebuild it into a modern tourist city, proves once again that out of adversity can come opportunity.

Irma, on the 22nd anniversary of another dreadful storm, category 4 Hurricane Luis in September 1995, rendered Barbuda virtually inhabitable, forcing the evacuation of its entire population of 1,800 people to Antigua.

It was encouraging to hear that Hollywood legend, actor Mr Robert De Niro has pledged to help rebuild Barbuda, partly out of self-interest in that he and a partner, billionaire Mr James Packer were developing the former K Club luxury resort, now renamed Paradise Found Nobu Resort, and partly out of empathy with the people of the island which he described as “barely habitable”.

The destruction of the island has provided the Government of Prime Minister Gaston Browne an unprecedented opportunity to rebuild Barbuda into a modern city themed around tourism, which is already its main revenue earner. In other words, Barbuda 2.0.

It's not often that a country gets such a glorious chance to build a well planned city, with stronger homes and supporting amenities, infrastructure that can withstand hurricane force winds of the likes of Irma and Luis, better roads and communication facilities, without the challenges posed by having a population on spot.

The Government has estimated that it will cost somewhere between $100 million and $350 million to rebuild the island. Mr Browne's Administration should approach this renewal with the big picture in mind and not just replicate what was there before.

Every opportunity should be taken to exploit the star power of Mr De Niro to raise the funds which will be critical to achieving what could be the biggest construction project in recent times in Antigua-Barbuda.

Mr Browne will, of course, need to re-image himself as a leader who welcomes investment, particularly in the hospitality industry, but times like these also bring the opportunity for cerebral leadership.

One of the limitations to greater development of the tourist industry in Barbuda has been the small number of accommodations. Luxury resorts could be the centrepiece of the new city.

The new Barbuda would build on current advantages such as its Frigate bird sanctuary; its beautiful pink and white sand beaches; its abundance of shipwrecks and wonderful reefs; and its almost virginal allure supported by a tropical marine climate — a popular draw for tourists seeking to escape the icy chill of the northern climes.

If Old San Juan, Puerto Rico can promote as a tourist attraction, a street that was merely walked on by a Spanish princess, imagine Barbuda re-enacting the fabled slave-breeding centre of the immediate post-emancipation period.

Barbuda could yet be Mr Gaston Browne's lasting legacy.