'Many Islands, One Sea'
ECLAC Report: Yachting in the Eastern Caribbean
On 9 January, The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) Subregional Headquarters, with the assistance of Mr. Tom van't Hof, published its report on "Yachting in the Eastern Caribbean: A Regional Overview". This project studied the yachting tourism sector in selected island nations, and examined the contribution of the yachting tourism sector to social and economic development in the Eastern Caribbean region as a whole. National-level studies took place in ECLAC member states where yachting plays a major role, including the BVI, St. Maarten, Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Grenada and Trinidad & Tobago. In the recently released report, issues arising from these studies are discussed, and suggestions are made for actions which both the public and private sectors can take within a regional framework to maximize the contribution of yachting to the Eastern Caribbean's development.
The report's introduction explains:
"In recent years there has been much anguish about weaknesses in the region's mainstream tourism and calls for a rejuvenation of the product have been frequent. At the same time yachting has been developing in relative obscurity. Unrecognised, its needs and contributions are often discarded as unimportant and of no significance to the region. It was in reflection of this lack of recognition and in awareness of the contribution that marine-based tourism makes to the region that ECLAC prepared a proposal that was co-funded by the Government of the Netherlands as 'Development of a Subregional Marine-based Tourism Strategy'."
In outlining the goals of the project, former Director of ECLAC's Subregional Headquarters for the Caribbean, Dr. Len Ishmael, has noted that while ECLAC has long been "convinced of the sterling contribution being made" by the yachting sector, there has been little concrete data available to support this conviction. Although some data on yachting activity exists through entry and clearance forms, information required on these forms varies from island to island, and according to the report there has been no systematic approach in the region to the data's collection or analysis. Therefore, Dr. Ishmael said, 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 co-operative approaches.
While prior to this project, it had seemed to many that each individual island was grappling with its own unique problems, this regional overview shows that despite certain variations - some places are known as mega-yacht ports, some as service centers, and others as beauty spots, for example - all face a number of issues in common. These include safety and security, providing value for money, environmental protection, user conflicts and the fact that 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.
The yachting sector is defined in the report as "the complex of activities that are required to sustain charter boating and cruising in the Eastern Caribbean. It includes the 'yachting' establishments as well as 'tourist' establishments that are the direct recipients of the yachting tourist expenditures, as well as those establishments that provide goods and services to the 'yachting' and 'tourist' establishments."
The report defines a yachting tourist as "a person who stays for more than 24 hours but less than twelve months in a particular country outside his or her usual place of residence and whose place of stay is a vessel for most of their stay".
The two main charter boat destinations are identified as the Virgin Islands and the Grenadines. The same areas are also popular cruising areas. There is an additional concentration of charter boats in the French islands, linked to a subsidy rendered to French-built boats and operations. Service centers are Trinidad, Grenada, Venezuela, St. Maarten and Antigua. St. Maarten and Antigua are also popular winter destinations (with St. Barths) for mega-yachts. Martinique and Guadeloupe are popular provisioning stops. Martinique and Saint Lucia are staging areas for charter boat trips to the natural beauties of the Grenadines.
Ownership of marinas varies between local and foreign, with a few being managed by international marina management firms. Most Trinidad marinas are locally owned, and there has been a gradual move toward local ownership in Tortola and in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua.
The last decades have seen an increase in the length of yachts, although for the bareboats this trend may have stopped, with operators expanding their catamaran fleets and providing a higher quality of equipment and services. In the 1970s and 1980s, private cruising yachts were 20 to 45 feet; these days they are larger and more luxurious.
Transatlantic rallies and the region's major regattas bring large numbers of boats and crews for extended stays in the region. Events such as carnival in Trinidad and the Jazz Festival in Saint Lucia also have a notable impact on yacht arrivals.
Basic lack of awareness of the yachting sector remains a major problem. While the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) has standing committees for hotels and cruise ships it does not have a similar committee for marine-based tourism. Neither is there a regional private-sector body comparable to the Caribbean Hotel Association. The report points out that, as a result, marine-based tourism has little impact when regional tourism agendas are set and its interests are rarely taken into consideration.
While progress has been made at the national level in many of the countries that participated in the project, in many places awareness is just reaching government officials and we know of no national marine-tourism awareness programmes.
The various national reports all tried to estimate the contribution of yachting to their respective economies. All estimates are uncertain, however, because basic background information and data are not available. Nevertheless, it is clear that yacht tourists consistently outspend cruise ship tourists (for example in Grenada, where a major new cruise ship complex is being built, tourism expenditures from yachts are estimated at over US$13 million, but expenditures from cruise ships at only something over US$3 million). Yet the danger exists, the report warns, that low spending cruise ship visitors will supplant higher spending yachting tourists, resulting in a loss of income and employment.
Seasonality can also limit the contribution of yachting to island economies. Hurricane season insurance north of 12°40'N is generally expensive, so many cruisers and charter crews move their vessels out of the region. The report points out that effective management of "hurricane holes" could facilitate the easing of insurance rates if countries can make a case that hurricane protection has improved. Hurricane season aside, the charter boat market generally follows the traditional tourism high season/low season pattern. Over-dependence on mega-yachts, which virtually never spend the summer months in the Caribbean, may worsen the impact of seasonality.
Crime remains, as in the entire tourism industry, an important issue. Crimes are committed against yachting tourists as well as by yachting tourists. The latter includes the non-clearance of vessels, resulting in significant loss of government revenue. While the Eastern Caribbean is undeniably seeing an increase in crime, which is mostly linked to the subregion acting as a gateway for the export of illegal drugs to North America and Europe, most serious crime is not committed against tourists. Unfortunately, the report notes that when yachting tourists are victims of crime, complaints about lack of interest by police officials arise frequently.
Harassment is still a problem in some areas. That useful services are provided and that negative attitudes can be turned around, however, is shown by the examples of Soufrière in Saint Lucia and the Indian River Guides Association in Dominica. The report mentions that the Indian River Guides Association now is the de facto representative of the ancillary yacht services in Dominica and members are a critical marketing factor as yachting ambassadors.
Pollution from marinas and boatyards and the impact on marine ecosystems from yachting infrastructure development are also of concern, a subject too deep to go into here.
Anchors and anchor chains cause serious damage to reef corals and will uproot sea grasses. Although experienced cruisers and charter crews would never anchor on coral, damage due to poor anchoring (and accidental groundings) continues to be done by those with little experience. The risk and extent of damage from anchoring and boat groundings increases with the increasing number of mega-yachts in the region.
The overcrowding of anchorages is not just an environmental issue; it is also a social issue. Says the report: "Overcrowding, or the perception of overcrowding is very much dependent on the characteristics of a particular setting and its environmental qualities. Overcrowding may result in a loss of scenic values and the loss of quality experiences. The perception of overcrowding is influenced by the type of yachtspeople visiting a destination. For example, bareboat charters will usually have a higher 'crowding threshold' than cruisers. There seems to be a need for a 'range' of anchorages to satisfy the expectations of different types of yachtspeople and to ensure that they all have a quality experience."
One aspect that has little or nothing to do with the impact from yachting, but that can have a serious impact on the yachting sector, is environmental degradation of the coastal zone in general. Such environmental degradation may include loss of scenic values, decline in water quality, litter, and degradation of marine ecosystems such as coral reefs. The degradation is usually related to impacts of development and over-exploitation of resources and not necessarily related to the yachting industry. Yet environmental degradation will negatively influence the selection of a destination by yachtspeople.
According to the report, the formation of a regional private sector marine trade organization should be of the highest priority. The tasks of such an organization should include raising awareness at all levels; regular consultations with CTO and other regional organizations, such as the regional associations of custom and police officials or port authorities, with respect to joint promotion and raising policy issues; the establishment of a code of conduct for sailors and the operation of marinas and charter boat companies; the setting of safety standards with respect to search and rescue; occupational health and fire fighting; the planning of hurricane shelters and cooperating in establishing training requirements.
The private sector in those countries where they do not as yet exist should establish national marine trade associations. The objectives and tasks of such an association would be very similar to those of a regional marine trade association, but would be focused on national issues, and also include liaison with national government.
Governments should promote the establishment of such a marine-tourism committee within the CTO. For those countries that have not done so, the establishment of government marine-based tourism focal points should be high on the agenda.
A regional strategy needs to focus on increasing the understanding of the role of marine-based tourism as part of the region's tourism product. Target groups would include the public at large as well as public servants and regional organizations operating in the Caribbean. The public at large, including the media remains largely unaware if not hostile to marine-based tourism. In St. Vincent & the Grenadines authorities have begun to introduce yachting as an aspect of tourism in its educational awareness programmes aimed at primary and secondary schools, an example that countries of the region should follow.
A regional private sector marine trade organization in collaboration with the CTO could prepare an annual overview of the sector.
Perhaps the greatest challenge highlighted in the report is the realisation and acceptance of the need for the islands to enter into strategic alliances, since the main competition in the yachting tourism market is not neighbouring islands but other regions such as the Mediterranean. It is a challenge that has been overcome for a long time by the cruise ship operators, who market a range of islands as a single product. Much more so than land-based tourism, marine-based tourism is mobile and the attraction and mutual profitability of a multi-island concept is obvious. "Many islands, one sea", the report tells us, could very well be the motto of yachting tourism in the Caribbean.
As increasing numbers of yachts began to both visit the Eastern Caribbean and be based here, boatowners often complained that there weren't enough highly skilled tradesmen to meet the demand for services ranging from mechanical and electronic repairs to fibreglass and paint work. As the demand for skilled labor increased, inevitably people with fewer skills and less experience entered the market. Concerns were raised about falling quality standards.
The Yacht Services Association of Trinidad and Tobago (YSATT) and The Tourism and Industrial Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago (TIDCO) commissioned a report on training needs in 1998, which made the following recommendations. ECLAC's "Yachting In The Eastern Caribbean: A Regional Overview" notes that these recommendations would still be applicable to many, if not all, of the countries in the region.
· Expatriate counterparts who are skilled in yard management, should be employed on a one-to-one basis immediately to lift the level of middle management and to train present incumbents;
· Extension courses in small business management and quality control should be provided to increase the level of skills of middle management, subcontractors and foremen;
· A system of part-time training should be introduced immediately to lift the skills of the tradespeople working in the industry and those coming into the industry over the next few years;
· A four-year apprentice scheme should be introduced within the next two years to attract school leavers into the industry and to train them in the various trades;
· The short-term courses should be given on a part-time basis using a combination of day release and evening study;
· The courses should be arranged to provide vertical articulation from trade to foreman to middle manager;
· Certification should be provided for the successful completion of individual models of study and for blocks of courses completed;
· Subcontractors should be certified to practice only in those areas and to the attainable level that their expertise permits;
· A time limit should be placed on the completion of the prescribed courses for the present incumbents at all levels in the sector to ensure that the elevation of trade skills and management practices is sector wide; and
· Workshops should be provided for the artisanal sector to expose it to current practices in small boat construction.
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