Like many other destinations in the Caribbean, the Turks and Caicos suffered its share of bumps and bruises as a result of last year’s hurricanes.
An archipelago of 40 low-lying coral islands southeast of the Bahamas, the British Overseas Territory sustained the most damage from Hurricane Irma, though it was also impacted by Hurricane Maria.
Many Turks and Caicos hotels, as well as the airport, experienced water damage and the port of Turks and Caicos witnessed even heavier destruction.
However, before year’s end in 2017, most of the island’s restaurants, bars, hotels and tourist attractions had reopened.
Longtime Turks and Caicos Developer Mark Durliat, owner of Grace Bay Resorts, recently spoke with TravelPulse about the destination, where it’s been and where it’s headed.
Over the past two decades of working in the Turks and Caicos, Durliat has led the creation of 10 new resorts, condominiums and single-family residential projects. He has spearheaded more than 300,0000 square feet of new construction and directly sold $145 million of real estate.
His initial project, Grace Bay Club, was the first luxury, all-oceanfront-suite resort in the country. While other developers were still discovering Turks and Caicos, Durliat’s 11-acre Grace Bay Club was flourishing.
More recently, Durliat’s energies have been focused on his new Rock House Resort, a 14-acre residential enclave that has a target sell out of $55 million. It will offer 41 cottages and four hillside homes.
According to Durliat, not only did Turks and Caicos recover remarkably quickly from the 2017 hurricane season that devastated much of the Caribbean, it is experiencing a variety of important developments and is thriving as a destination on many levels.
“It used to be a niche destination, and it still has a bit of that, but it has grown and become competitive with some of the more well-known destinations in the Caribbean,” begins Durliat.
That transition has been helped along in large part by the incredible proliferation of direct flights to the Turks and Caicos in recent years. Durliat rattles off the list of cities that now offer direct flights to the Turks and Caicos at dizzying speed – New York, Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami, Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago and more.
“It’s all fairly new, it started in Miami, then grew to Charlotte, then New York and now you’re seeing this huge growth in awareness thanks to these new direct flights,” explained Durliat.
In the early days of the destination’s development, island officials had to work hard negotiating with the airlines to convince them to offer flights to the destination, even putting up money to underwrite the flights. These days, however, that sort of effort is no longer necessary, said Durliat.
“Lately more airlines come to us,” Durliat continued. “JetBlue in 2011 was the real difference maker. We worked with them to put in place some capital to generate some activity for that first flight and took a similar approach with United and US Airways, and since then it has taken off.”
Airlines initiating flights to Turks and Caicos entirely on their own is just one example of how the destination is thriving. There are also a variety of new luxe properties that have opened in recent years or that are slated to open in the near future.
One of the most legendary names in luxury hospitality, The Ritz-Carlton, has announced plans for a Turks and Caicos venture. The project will be located in the Grace Bay area of Providenciales and will include the first luxury-branded homes to be built in the Turks and Caicos.
In addition, Durliat’s own company, Grace Bay Resorts, recently acquired a new property, Point Grace. The luxury boutique resort, which came under Grace Bay Resorts ownership in April, offers a world-class location on Grace Bay Beach and 35 luxe suites.
And not to be overlooked, last December 2016 the much buzzed about Shore Club opened. The $100 million property is located on a radiant, three-mile stretch of beach and features opulent villas and lavish suites. There’s also three pools, poolside cabanas, a yoga pavilion and a 12,000-square-foot spa, as well as three dining venues.
As exciting as all of this news is for the destination, Durliat stresses that Turks and Caicos will never be an Aruba or St. Maarten.
“All of these developments are relatively small, the Ritz will be a 100 maybe 120 room property with 30 to 50 condominiums. So it’s all boutique in nature,” he says.
The intimate nature of many of the luxury properties on the island is just one of the elements that continues to set Turks and Caicos apart from places like Aruba and St. Maarten.
The destination does not offer much in the way of a nightclub scene either. It’s a place that largely slows down after dinner, says Durliat. But your dinner will be fabulous, as the Turks and Caicos has a thriving culinary scene, one known for its array of upscale restaurants run by small operators offering handmade, first-class cuisine and great wines.
“Sun, sand and sea and good food and relaxation, not hustle and bustle, is what you’ll find in Turks and Caicos,” said Durliat. “It’s not the type of place where you have to run down to the beach each morning to put your book on a chair in order to reserve the chair.”
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