Hi Gerry, thanks for talking to Atlantico Weekly. Could you please tell our readers who you are? Well, my name is Gerry Dom, born in Belgium. I came for the first time to Cape Verde in 1977. At that time I was still a minor and arrived on a yacht together with my parents. When my parents had to go back to Belgium, I stayed behind for some months. I fell in love with a local girl and she became my first wife. We sailed away to the Caribbean, went through the Panama Canal and in to the South Pacific as far as Australia. I didn’t want to do military service in Belgium so when we arrived back in Cape Verde, I took the Cape Verde nationality and stayed here. I was lucky to find a job with the US Embassy, at their department for international development. I worked in local development projects for several years, especially in water projects. But the best memories I have are from the weekend sailing trips with our diplomats. In 1995 I started building my own fishing boat. It took six years. I opted to stay part time with the Embassy, doing some desk jobs. Meanwhile I started earning some money with the fishing boat. For six years I was self employed in commercial fishing and for four years in sports fishing. After making 14.000 hours of sailing, I sold the boat. Meanwhile I had had a divorce and I had met my second wife Orquidea. We settled in Boa Vista, home island of Orquidea. I bought another sailing boat, but this time only for pleasure. Occasionally I still do charters with tourists. I know all the waters around Cape Verde and I have worked with several sailing organizations.
Could you tell us more about Guesthouse Orquidea? After buying a plot of land I began building the Guesthouse. Orquidea is a family type guesthouse, influenced by Cape Verde culture. We have ten rooms and a fantastic garden. We water the garden with recycled water from the showers. Most rooms come with ocean view and a private balcony. I would like to do another project like this, but expansion is difficult on Boa Vista. The island is developing a zone for the tourism development, but it is only for big investors. There are just a few plots of land to buy and they are only for the very rich. I am now looking for guesthouse projects on other islands, because I want to participate in the development of Cape Verde.
How did you become an entrepreneur of Cape Verde? I came to Boa Vista at the right moment. When I came here, 15 years ago, the village of Sal Rei was still very small. There were plenty of plots available. I bought some land close to the ocean. The local population was not used to do this and warned me that it was too close to the sea. I designed my own house and started developing real estate. I sold several apartments, so I made enough money to build our guesthouse. I knew tourists would come soon, even though this was before the International Airport was opened.
What were your main challenges or problems you encountered on Boa Vista? Well, there was no planning at all from the local or national government. Right now we have the SDTIBM, the Development Agency for Tourism Development on Maio and Boa Vista, which is partly government owned and partly private. The SDTIBM is now taking care of the planning of huge special tourist zones, but unfortunately there is still no place for small investments. The real estate projects are catering to foreign buyers and tourists. They are to expensive for the local people. Many locals cannot pay the rent and are forced to live in slums. We have also seen a lot of immigration from Africa in Boa Vista. These people came to work in the construction sector, but after they had finished the projects, they stayed and are now struggling to survive. The government wants to legalize the people that are already here and stop further immigration to Boa Vista. There should indeed be a certain limit to immigration in order to keep the Boa Vista population in balance.
What is your view on the economic outlook for Cape Verde, especially for Boa Vista? I think Cape Verde has a bright future in general. It is the new Caribbean. Our climate is better than that in the Canary Islands, where it gets chilly in winter. Cape Verde’s culture also goes well together with European culture. But we should pay attention to developing small and rural projects. Boa Vista still has some problems with electricity and water supply. It is risky to drink tap water. In the future I hope that the government will solve these problems. There are also other issues. Not everybody has access to the big resort hotels and there is a problem with waste. Especially with plastic bags. The government should take more care of garbage collection. Another advise I have for the government is that they built a town on the south side of Boa Vista, where the next big tourist zone is now under development. Workers and other people will have to live there and the expansion of Sal Rei goes to slow. We definitely need better urban planning and more attention to education. I am convinced that smaller and good quality investments would be great for Cape Verde. The people that come to the big all inclusive hotels are mostly middle class, while the ones that tend to stay in smaller hotels are usually more upperclass. The authorities should sell plots at reasonable prices. Though the government did a great job on constructing and improving the infrastructure on all islands, we still need better maritime transportation and and aviation between the islands.
What do you recommend to other entrepreneurs when doing business in Cape Verde? There is still room for investors, small and big. But they should bring enough money of their own to invest. These investors must love the country and its people and appreciate the local culture. Cape Verdeans welcome everybody. This is a beautiful place and we have beautiful people, but we must make efforts to keep up our morabeza, Cape Verde’s famous way of hospitality.
Thank you Gerry. Thank you too!
November 5th 2012. All rights reserved by Atlantico Weekly.