Like many of the Caribbean islands, the main industry of the Turks and Caicos is tourism. However, this hasn't always been the case. Until recent years, the island chain was relatively undiscovered as a tourist destination and the economy was held by salts.
Bermudian settlers began trading in timber and salt in 1658. These were some of the islands' first settlers, and salt, which was sometimes referred to as "white gold," quickly became a booming industry. Salt traders created "salinas", salt drying pans, some of which still exist on several islands.
Following the American Revolution, British loyalists also made their way to the Turks and Caicos. Exported cotton sold in New York and London, but due to the thin soil of the islands, cotton farmers struggled against the booming business from the U.S. colonies. Cotton plantations deteriorated greatly and were finally wiped out by a hurricane in 1813.
Salt, however, maintained its status as the main industry of the islands throughout this period. Many salt merchants became rich, and this attracted pirates. The French fought for the islands many times, but the British managed to maintain control.
For the past 30 years, vacationers have found their way to these islands in increasing numbers, making tourism the top trade. Tourism provides a wide range of jobs for locals and has become the most important part of the islands' economy.
The tourist trade was jump-started when seven millionaires, including Theodore Roosevelt III and the DuPont family, "found" the islands in the early 1960s. They leased land from the British government for their own use.
Similarly, the son of the last prime minister of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Count Ferdinand Czernin, purchased land on the tiny Pine Cay. After his death, it became an exclusive resort. In 1984, the first Club Med on the islands opened its doors, and the Turks and Caicos became an official hot spot for tourism.
The Turks and Caicos are also becoming a popular spot for offshore investments. As a "zero tax" jurisdiction, investors incur no taxes and few restrictions on any monetary exchanges. However, such lax laws have caused these islands some trouble. In the 1990s, the islands gained some negative press as the result of money laundering. However, after intervention by the British government, these problems have subsided.
Fish and seafood are another aspect of the islands' economy. Although not the most important export, seafood, including conch and lobster, does bring income to the islands.
The islands are known for their peace and beauty, so it's easy to see how these islands have become a top spot for vacationers. With so much to offer, it's easy to see how the tourist business has continued to grow for 30 years and become the most important part of the area's economy.
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