New Resorts Could Endanger "Unspoiled" Nature of Islands

DESTINATIONS LOVE TO MARKET THEMSELVES AS UNSPOILED, but with the volume of hotel product that virtually all Caribbean islands and Mexico beach areas are adding these days, Travel Agent poses a question: In a decade, will there be any truth to the label "unspoiled"?Exterior of a villa that will open at West Caicos Reserve

We started to ponder this when we caught wind of talks that two "unspoiled" islands, Anguilla and Dominica, could be slated for major resorts. This followed widely reported news of development on West Caicos, a previously uninhabited island in Turks and Caicos.

West Caicos Reserve (www.westcaicosreserve.com) will include a 125-room Ritz-Carlton at Molasses Reef, along with three restaurants created by renowned chef Gray Kunz, a world-class marina and a full-service spa with open-air pavilions. Spread across the island's shores, flanking the resort, will be 75 Ritz-Carlton-branded villas.

So you see why we pose the question. Now, let's get some answers.

"'Unspoiled'? That word's going to be an oxymoron in about five to ten years," says Bob Kleppick, a certified Mexico and Caribbean specialist and owner of Global Pathfinders Travel in Spring, TX. "There won't be such a thing as unspoiled." Inside a property planned on West Caicos

Kleppick points out that the vast revenue potential of tourism creates a dilemma for destinations: They can choose not to develop but they'll lose out on millions, even billions, of tourism dollars.

Is it possible for them to develop without getting spoiled? We don't claim to be engineering experts, but we're pretty sure it could be done if you build small and eco-friendly.

Large resorts can kill that authentic island feel. And overcrowding kills space. Some destinations have set rules for developers that for a certain amount of land to be developed, an even larger portion of land must remain untouched.

In the West Caicos project, the developers conducted a comprehensive study led by highly regarded ecotourism expert Hitesh Mehta of EDSA, the international land-planning firm known for its site-sensitive design approach. To protect the island's natural resources, much of its 11 square miles is expected to remain forever undeveloped, while all buildings will be low-density, inflicting minimal impact on the environment.

Then again, such rules and regulations regarding development vary from island to island.

When visiting last fall, Travel Agentwas impressed by how "unspoiled" Turks and Caicos seemed with all the projects taking place. They have managed to preserve the aesthetics of the islands.

Location and Density

We didn't have the good fortune of surveying every property, but from our short tour on the island of Providenciales, the destination didn't appear to be overcrowded with resorts. I believe that's because most are low-density, situated away from the main roadways and do not obstruct the aesthetics of the island.

Rose Marie Spatafore, owner of E-Z Travel Meeting/Event Planning in Ansonia, CT, thinks St. Lucia is the champion of developing without spoiling.

"In six to ten years," she says, "there will still be an unspoiled island: St. Lucia. They have worked hard to make sure that their island is not overrun with mega-hotels. The St. Lucia people love their island and will not let anything taller than a palm tree be built on the island. They have strived to keep their island as one with nature. I hope that this will never change."

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