Eastern Caribbean Yachting Summit
We're All in the Same Boat
Thirty-two delegates from eight Eastern Caribbean nations and territories met in Port of Spain, Trinidad on December 12 and 13, 2002, to examine the contribution of the yachting tourism sector to social and economic development in the Eastern Caribbean region as a whole. Participants included government officials, heads of national marine trades associations, and representatives of sailing clubs, tourism organizations and other NGOs.
The meeting marked a pivotal point in a two-year project organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and funded by the Dutch Government, titled "Development of a Regional Marine-based Tourism Strategy". Prior to the meeting, national-level studies and consultations took place in ECLAC member states where yachting plays a major role, including the BVI, St. Maarten, Antigua & Barbuda, Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Grenada and Trinidad & Tobago. At the Port of Spain meeting, the findings of the national studies were reviewed, issues arising from them were discussed, and suggestions were made for actions which both the public and private sectors could take within a regional framework to maximize the contribution of yachting to the Eastern Caribbean's development.
Director of ECLAC's Subregional Headquarters for the Caribbean Dr. Len Ishmael described the meeting as a "historic moment - the first regional conference on the yachting sector in the Eastern Caribbean." The project was Len Ishmael's brainchild. A St. Lucian who now lives in Trinidad, she is an enthusiastic sailor who has been struck by "the almost total lack of mention, information and discussion about the yachting sector in tourism circles at a major CARICOM summit called in The Bahamas [last] year, to review the fortunes of regional tourism post 9/11, not a single mention was made of the yachting sector."
In her opening address on December 12, Dr. Ishmael noted that while ECLAC was "convinced of the sterling contribution being made" by the yachting sector, there was little concrete data available to support this conviction. Therefore the first of the three main objectives of the project was to provide the data, information and analysis that would allow for better future understanding and monitoring of one of the least understood subsectors of the tourism industry.
The second objective, Dr. Ishmael stated, was to utilize this data in articulating an effective framework for the management of the yachting sector, thereby maximizing its potential contribution to the region's development goals. The third objective was to identify those issues that lend themselves to regional cooperative approaches.
The advantage of a cooperative regional approach designed to promote diversity and balance in the yachting sector was described by J.J. Andrew "Andy" McDonald, a consultant to Antigua's Ministry of Tourism. He noted that instead of each island competing with its neighbors for a "bigger piece of the existing pie", by working together we can create a much larger pie - and all share in its rewards. He pointed out that the Eastern Caribbean, working as a unit, can be serious competition for the Mediterranean as world's top sailing area.
While prior to this meeting many participants had felt that their own island was grappling with unique problems, an overview of the national reports presented on the first day showed that despite the variations - some are known as mega-yacht ports, some as service/storage centers, and others as cruising destinations for example - all were to a surprising degree "in the same boat". The themes of safety and security, providing value for money, waste disposal and user conflicts were heard repeatedly.
It was discovered that throughout the region, the yachting sector is largely private-sector driven, with little involvement of tourism and other government officials in its evolution and management. Mechanisms for consultation and dialogue between private interests and governments on the yachting sector are largely absent in most countries.
Although some data on yachting activity exists through entry and clearance forms, there is no systematic approach in the region to its collection or analysis.
In all but one (St. Maarten) of the eight countries studied, direct expenditure by the yachting sector contributes more than cruise-ship tourism - a finding that may have major policy implications for a number of governments in the region.
On the meeting's second day, participants broke up into working groups to examine opportunities to develop regional approaches to the following challenges: skills training and human-resource development; investment promotion and marketing; institutional development (including Customs and Immigration practices); research and data management; and the establishment of occupational safety guidelines and environmentally friendly standards and practices for marinas, boatyards and anchorages.
Out of these working groups' reports (which made suggestions too numerous to be listed in full here) came the groundwork for a regional strategy for management of the yachting sector. Two virtually unanimous recommendations were that local/national marine trades associations be promoted in all member countries in order to provide structured representation of the sector to their respective governments, and that the dormant Marinas Association of the Caribbean (possibly renamed the Marine Association of the Caribbean to reflect a wider membership) be revitalized and expanded into a "marine version of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation".
Governmental awareness and support of the yachting sector was another important issue. It was suggested that there be dedicated yachting officers (as some already have) in all regional Ministries of Tourism, and that concessions for investment in yachting be on a par with those for hotels or cruise ships.
Among other things, the institutional development working group advocated standardization of both Immigration documentation and length of stay in member states, and regional streamlining of Customs procedures for duty-free items for yachts in transit.
Suggested means of promoting a unified Eastern Caribbean yachting product included targeted media advertising and the creation of a comprehensive "marine portal" for the region on the internet. One of the investment promotion strategies discussed was a tax incentive plan for investment in the yachting industry in ECLAC member states, similar to the "defiscalisation" plan that boosted yachting development in the French islands.
Skills training and human resource development was examined from the bottom up. Robbie Ferron noted that youth sailing programs have a major role in creating an affinity, as well as skills, for boating. Lima Frederick of Grenada's Ministry of Tourism suggested attachment of students to "Yacht Studies" as part of Hospitality Studies. Existing commercial marine training programs in Barbados and Jamaica could possibly be adapted to encompass the yachting sector.
A move toward the "greening" of the regional yachting sector was deemed critical. Marinas and boatyards, for example, would do well to follow existing International Marina Organization "best management practices" (e.g. use of automatic shut-off valves on all fuel dispensers) prioritized for Caribbean conditions. Guidelines should also be provided for yachts regarding "no anchoring" zones and disposal of solid and liquid waste.
Other concepts raised included sub-regional collaborations. As Cuthbert Didier said of St. Lucia, "Our product is actually enhanced by its location among other islands." The possibility exists, Dr. Ishmael noted for example, for Grenada and Saint Vincent & the Grenadines to consider a strategy of mutual benefit in the promotion and management of direct investments in the provision of services and facilities strategically located throughout the Grenadines.
Kudos must go to ECLAC for undertaking this ambitious project, and for continuing to provide technical help and facilitation to attain its goals. A report on the contribution of yachting to development in the Eastern Caribbean will be sent by ECLAC to members' Heads of State and Ministers of Tourism.
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