Marina slowdown causing ‘panic’

• January yacht charter fees are down

• ABM chairman says drop is ‘noticeable’

• “Booming” Caribbean; The Bahamas “a bit slow”


Editor-in-chief of the Tribune

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The president of the Association of Marinas of the Bahamas (ABM) said “it scares me a bit” that there has been a “noticeable” slowdown in boating/yachting traffic ahead of the peak of the spring season.

Peter Maury told Tribune Business that he fears the post-pandemic reopening of the Caribbean, combined with tightened COVID testing protocols and bureaucratic entry requirements, will reduce the increase in business for marinas in the Bahamas and the related businesses that benefited in 2020 and 2021 after the most restrictive shutdowns. survey.

“We hope that in March it will pick up again, but it’s a bit slower than last year,” Maury said. “It’s noticeable. It freaks me out to tell you the truth. I can tell you that I know what we collected in January of last year in yacht charter fees, and we’re not even close to that this year. We are down.

“Last year [2020], the Caribbean was dead. This year we knew they were opening and of course the boats that arrived in October, November 2020 and stayed, that certainly didn’t happen this time. They returned to the United States and the Caribbean due to entry and exit issues with testing.

“When the Caribbean was closed, all the boats came here and stayed. It was the whole month of January and February of last year. At the moment, a lot of boats have left and are doing charters in the Caribbean. I hear the charter market in the Caribbean is booming, but we’re a little slow.

With Easter falling in mid-April this year, Mr Maury, who runs Bay Street Marina, expressed optimism that the spring boating season will ‘lead straight into summer’ and result in several months strong for the sector and associated industries ahead of the traditional downturn. at the height of hurricane season.

“We hope the boats will stay, not go south or north, and hang around more in the Bahamas,” he added. “That’s what we’re hoping for. I don’t think we’re going to be as good as last year, I can tell you that. We are expecting their return in March.

“There is room to change policies and procedures on our side. It would be nice if we got rid of those tests and that health travel visa, and got back to business. The test is definitely a complaint. We’re late. We could have made some changes but that is beyond us now.

“Nothing will be like last year because the Caribbean was closed. In 2018 they had all these category five storms there, so we had a lot of business in 2019. In 2020 everything was very fragile, but when we did open boats, they started coming in quickly, and 2021 was great because the Caribbean was still closed. Now the boats are going back,” Maury said.

“That’s what I don’t understand about politicians. They say where the boats go, but the Caribbean is already ahead of us on the occupancy rate. One of the former financial secretaries said, “Where are they going to go?” I said, ‘The same place they always go’. The Caribbean gets two-thirds of the business, we get one-third, and now they’re back in the Caribbean.

The ABM chief said the ‘scarcity’ of COVID testing in Florida, which is the Bahamas’ main boating market, had caused a problem over the Christmas/New Year period, with some boaters n ‘having been unable to get tests and results in time to respond at the time. five-day travel window before the day set by that nation.

This was later reduced to three days, increasing the challenge associated with boats and yachts being able to obtain approved health visas for passengers and crew – and make the crossing to the Bahamas on time – especially in bad weather. .

Asked what improvements he would like to see in the Bahamas, Mr Maury said a “very clear customs clearance process” and a much easier way to obtain cruising permits and pay charter fees were required.

He described the process of obtaining a charter license and paying the associated fees, especially as “so confusing right now”. Incoming boats and yachts previously had to obtain a cruising permit, then obtain their charter license and pay associated fees.

Now, Maury said, in addition to these steps, they must pay a $75 transit fee, which involves a customs document detailing the cargo on board as well as shippers and consignees. It is only once this has been obtained that the charter license and the payment of the associated fees can be concluded.

The Bahamas private boating market, along with private aviation and Airbnb-style vacation rentals, were the first segments to rebound and lead the post-COVID tourism recovery. Boating, in particular, was seen as ideal for a socially distant COVID world, as ships could moor offshore or visit more remote islands.

Additionally, the sector was seen as generating higher spending and more productive visitors to the Bahamas, who spread their money across multiple Bahamian islands rather than being confined to a single resort or destination.

However, Mr Maury expressed disappointment that the $2.5 million in yacht charter fees collected last year through the online portal established by the marina industry had not been ‘reinvested’ into the sector training and development.

“One of the things we were saying was if they [boats] have to pay charter fees, let’s have an online portal where they pay, or the broker pays, when they receive money from the client,” he added. “We put this in place and it works, but we haven’t gotten the money back.

“Most boats chartered in the Bahamas are registered in Cayman Islands or Jamaica. They do most of their business here, but the fees go to countries other than the Bahamas. How can that make sense?”

Arguing that the government is too focused on mass stopovers and cruise tourism, Mr Maury said the ABM and its partners have teamed up to organize a two-hour “pop-up” training session this Friday the 12th. February at 12pm at Bay Street Marina to introduce Bahamians to the range of career opportunities available in the industry.

He added that Bahamian boat captains, crews and chefs would all be there to inspire new hires, adding that the growth in the marina/yachting rate was outstripping the capacity of the job market to supply workers. Plumbers and engineers in the Maritimes are just a few of the occupations the ABM chief has identified as suffering from a labor shortage.

“It’s the only way to grow our industry,” Maury said. “If the boats come here and can’t get everything they need in our country, they will go back to the Caribbean. It must be a cooperative effort to develop the industry in our country. »

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