The second most asked question I get since we moved to the BVI is "What's it like doing business there?" (The first is actually a statement - "My bags are packed and I'm heading on down" ;-)
The BVI may not be your typical retail shopping experience, as we have a lot of small shops here on Tortola. No chains allowed, not even Starbucks ;-(. BVI is home to many finance and insurance companies (I understand there are 338 banks represented on the island). Five of the top six CPA firms are represented here. And BVI issues over 2,500 international business corporations (IBCs) each year.
This doesn't mean they are liberal or close their eyes to monetary transactions. They are very strict on money laundering activities, and do comply with the OECD’s rules on money laundering a fifty page document that one must adhere to if you want to do business here. Many islands in the Caribbean cater to IBCs and “offshore banking” and some have been blacklisted, which makes it virtually impossible to do business there.
Tourism is also big, with sailing, snorkeling and diving the most popular activities. There are over 800 boats available for charter and during the season, you will find over 2,500 boats around the islands. There are no major hotel chains or high rise buildings on the island. The largest building is three stories high (we will be building our permanent office the same height). We do get cruise ships every week, who usually stay a day. There are 17,000 residents on Tortola and 3,000 on Virgin Gorda, with a smattering on other islands. During the tourist season, another 60,000 is estimated to be here at any given time.
I have learned quite a bit about doing business internationally since moving to the British Virgin Islands. Time off here, and in other parts of the world is very important, unlike in the U.S. They do an excellent balance of work, leisure and family time. Here, like a in a lot of countries, the government mandates the working environments.
We are celebrating BVI's annual Emancipation Festival, a 15-day event that begins on July 24th. This week the island is closed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It is the first time I have ever experienced such observance of a holiday all businesses are closed except for food stores. Banks, the government, local stores all closed. Since we are a 24/7 business, folks can work on these three days, but we need to pay them double time and a half.
The festival commemorates the first of August 1834, the day slaves in the British West Indies were freed. There has been festival activities going on all over the island, with most centered around music - international reggae and calypso music and steel drum bands. On Monday, August 6, is the parade that features “Sky Dancers” or “mocko jumbies” who wear shiny, colorful costumes with long pants legs that cover the stilts making them very tall. People in vibrant, feathered and sequined costumes shake, jump and sway, keeping rhythmic times to the floats carrying soca, calypso, reggae and steel drums. http://bviwelcome.com
Sunday, August 5 is the Miss BVI contest. Interesting events in that the Miss BVI contestants go through the talent, swimsuit and evening gown competition. But they also go through a **business attire** competition, which I find interesting. (We have last year’s runner up working for us as my marketing assistant, and she is quite talented).
So, when you come to the BVI for a visit, leave your “modern world” shopping ideas at home and plan to enjoy a quaint experience. But, you can bring your laptop, as we do have ASDL available in most hotels ;-).
Chief Marketing Officer, GAP Enterprises, Ltd.
President/General Manager, Standard Transactions (BVI) Limited