Saint Vincent came relatively late to tourism, although its dependencies such as Bequia and Mustique had developed a reputation for exclusive luxury tourism as early as the 1960s. In recent years, the main island of Saint Vincent has tried to capitalize on its spectacular natural beauty by encouraging cruise ship companies to include it on their itineraries and by developing the yachting sector. In 1999, according to the Caribbean Development Bank, these 2 sectors showed a marked increase in visitor arrivals, bringing total arrivals to 223,125. On the other hand, stayover arrivals declined slightly by 1.5 percent from the previous year. There are few large hotels in Saint Vincent or in its dependencies, and as a result the $75 million annual tourist expenditure is more widely distributed through small hotels and retailers than in many other Caribbean countries.
The government has sought to expand tourism by opening a new cruise ship pier at Kingstown, upgrading the airport on Canouan, and improving the Leeward Highway on the west coast. Deliberations on the enlargement of the existing airport or the building of a new one continue. But Saint Vincent, which has few white sand beaches and an otherwise underdeveloped infrastructure, is not suitable for mass tourism and has wisely concentrated on attracting a small "upmarket" tourist clientele.
The other major service sector deals with overseas financial business. The 1996 legislation ensuring near total secrecy on taxation and other financial activity encouraged the arrival of many IBCs, totaling 2,698 in 1999. But there have been persistent allegations that the country's stringent secrecy provisions have served to conceal illegal financial operations such as tax evasion and drug money laundering. In early 2001, the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF), supported by European and North American governments, named Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, among other Caribbean countries, as a suspected location of financial irregularities. Related to the financial sector is a small data processing sub-sector, in which there is limited employment in computerized financial dealings.
The retail sector is underdeveloped, with few large stores or supermarkets. Markets, both in Kingstown and Bequia, are busy, and many rural Vincentians depend on small village corner stores. The growth of tourism and yacht chartering in particular has produced a noticeable increase in specialist retail outlets.