In an article written by us and published today in the Financial Times the island of Antigua and its role as a super yacht base comes under scrutiny
For many reasons the island of Antigua is a central hub of super yachting in the Caribbean. The island is an easy destination for trans-Atlantic sailors and the first Caribbean charter businesses were set up here in the early 1960’s. With good hotels, cheap airflights and one of the longest runways in the Eastern Caribbean many super yachts, especially sailing boats, utilise the island as their prime Caribbean base.
For years it was not all plain sailing for superyachts visiting the island. Many bureaucratic procedures and practises dated back to the days when not only was there no competition from other islands but then, there were fewer visitors. Working with Government, John Duffy President of the Antigua & Barbuda Marine Association, has ensured practices are updated with simplified Immigration forms and relaxed Customs procedures. He also added, “Both the Association and the Ministry of Tourism are working to smooth the path and correct some of the erroneous impressions formed over recent years that Antigua is an expensive destination. It is not the cheapest but many items are available to yachts tax free and the situation will get better when the new Duty Free Zone is instigated.”
The shoreside businesses that attract superyachts to the island, offering all forms of marine service from maintenance to yacht shipping and delivery, are almost exclusively owned and run by ex patriots. Direct employment of locals in the marine sector is relatively small but many businesses benefit indirectly whether they are hotels, restaurants, taxi companies, boutiques and gift shops, T-shirt printers, internet services, banks or laundries. Not all yachting tourists come by or stay on boats, many arrive for the regattas and boat shows adding to those requiring shore side services.
Direct and indirect employment in the marine industry is difficult to estimate because many businesses serve other sectors and could be said to work on the margins of yachting tourism. With the spend per head by yachting tourists being several times that of hotel visitors and, probably, many hundreds of times greater than cruise ship tourists, it can be concluded that direct and indirect employment in the marine industry plays a substantial part in the island economy.
Drug abuse and the rising incidences of petty crime came to a head early this year damaging the island’s reputation when a young Australian was shot to. His death shook local and yachting communities alike. Some superyacht owners have also been responsible for directing their yachts away from the island.
Hotels did not seem to notice a drop off in trade following the incident, the five star resort hotel, Carlisle Bay reported that any drop off in business following the incident was only marginal. Immediately after the events the hotel reviewed all of their security procedures whilst Antiguan Police stepped up their routine visits to all hotels on the island.
John Maginley, Antigua and Barbuda’s Minister of Tourism indicated that the country’s yachting industry has been surprisingly resilient with the 2008/09 season seeing no real drop in the number of visiting superyachts. He said, “The services provided to the yachting sector are now an essential part of the country’s economy with yachting contributing a significant percentage of GDP. As such the Government has done everything possible to ensure the safety and security of our yachting tourists. Antigua has always been a safe yachting destination and our goal is to minimise the chances of any incident occurring.”