The remote Atlantic haven of St Helena – best known as Napoléon’s last home – is aiming to become a modern commercial hub. With an airport in place and further development plans in progress, it’s clearly open for business already
Located in the South Atlantic Ocean approximately 1,200 miles west of Namibia and 2,500 miles east of Brazil, St Helena is renowned for its isolation. It is for good reason that the British chose this island as Napoléon Bonaparte’s final place of exile in 1815.
But location is a lot less relevant in the digital age than it was, especially when it comes to doing business.
The authorities on this British Overseas Territory have taken advantage of the IT revolution and are working hard to transform it into an international commercial centre.
A series of infrastructure investments are helping St Helena to shake off its sleepy past. Its satellite connections, for instance, now provide excellent digital coverage, which is set to improve further in 2020 with the completion of a project to install fibreoptic cabling.
The island’s transport infrastructure, meanwhile, has developed considerably thanks to a £285 million project to build an international airport, which opened in June 2016.
Once accessible only by sea, St Helena now welcomes regular commercial air services. You can get here from South Africa within five hours.
The authorities have gone to great lengths to ensure that these projects do not harm the island’s natural beauty. A plan to obtain at least 95 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2019 means that St Helena is leading the way in sustainable development – and the local economy is already starting to reap the rewards of such investments.
The authorities have gone to great lengths to ensure that these projects do not harm the island’s natural beauty.
A plan to obtain at least 95 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2019 means that St Helena is leading the way in sustainable development – and the local economy is already starting to reap the rewards of such investments.
The airport is playing a key role in St Helena’s economic advancement by making it much easier for business people to come here.
It has enabled firms from the UK and Europe to be among the first to seize the opportunity to trade on the island, enhancing their potential for further expansion.
Steeped in history: ‘I so much enjoyed my rambles among the rocks and mountains of St Helena,’ wrote Charles Darwin of his stopover at the island on his voyage back from the Galapagos on HMS Beagle in 1836
Two industries in particular are benefiting from St Helena’s improved connectivity: farming and tourism. Much of the island’s food is imported, so there are many opportunities to support local agriculture, especially coffee production.
The climate and volcanic soils here are perfect for growing St Helena coffee, which is widely rated among the world’s finest. This business is still in its infancy – the supply barely meets local demand – but the arrival of the airport could help it to become an international concern.
Much the same can be said for the fishing industry. The island’s tuna fleet follows the International Pole and Line Foundation’s sustainable “one-by-one philosophy” (a single line and hook per boat) and its focus is already switching to air-freighting fresh fish.
The local viticulture potential is also ripe for development and is being investigated as a potential export revenue stream.
Bucket-list location The airport has, of course, also opened the island up as a tourist destination. St Helena has been included on “must visit” lists in publications such as Frommer’s, Wanderlust and the FT this year.
Offering beautiful scenery, sports such as diving and fishing, and a human history dating back to its discovery in 1502, the island has much to please discerning travellers.
To accommodate them, historic sites such as the 19thcentury Ladder Hill Fort, perched above the capital, Jamestown, have potential for conversion into an upscale hotel complex.
Indeed, Bertrand’s Cottage – the former home of some of Napoléon’s entourage – was recently refurbished as a guest house and restaurant that will be coming to the market shortly.
With further developments, including the construction of new roads and IT infrastructure, underpinned by the sustainable development plan, St Helena is certainly no longer sleeping as it aims to boost the economy and create more commercial opportunities for local people and visitors alike.
DID YOU KNOW? St Helena was discovered in 1502 by Portuguese explorer João da Nova on 21 May, the feast day of Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. It lies between Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, which are more than 2,000 miles apart. Together they form one British Overseas Territory.