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Impact Value of Yachting in the Caribbean to Take Center Stage

New Status for Yachting in OECS Common Tourism Policy

For more than 60 years the value of yachting to the Caribbean’s tourism industry has been unrecognised and unappreciated despite the yachting impact study in the ECLAC Report of 2002 but all that is set to change.

The recent revisions to the 1981 Treaty of Basseterre provided for a Common Tourism Policy throughout the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).  To develop this ideal into a workable policy, consultants from the U.K., Yellow Railroad, were employed, with funding from the Commonwealth Sectretariat, to produce a policy document.

Starting with a tourism stakeholder conference/workshop in St Lucia on 23rd/24th March 2011, the consultants elicited opinions and ideas on what was required for a common tourism policy.  In the previous couple of years the Caribbean Marine Association (CMA) had become dormant due to lack of funds and, as a result, the CMA did not attend the St. Lucia meeting.

Following the St Lucia meeting the consultants visited the OECS countries to obtain, by their own experiences and by talking with tourism stakeholders a feel for the further requirements of a common tourism policy.  These visits were followed by a meeting with the Ministers of Tourism in St. Kitts on 19th April 2011.  At this meeting, the Ministers stressed to the consultants the importance and value of yachting to OECS tourism.  Yachting had come a long way from the days when it was not even an agenda item.

The combination of meetings, visits and discussions resulted in a Draft Common Tourism Policy document  which was presented to a second conference/workshop held in Antigua on 17th/18th August 2011.  The CMA was represented at this meeting by the President, John Duffy and a Director from St. Vincent & the Grenadines, John West.  Also representing the yachting sector was Ivor Jackson, author of the yachting impact section of the 2002 ECLAC Regional Study.

Prior to the workshop/conference, the consultants had presented a 50 page report which summarised all the options available to a joint tourism policy and suggested measures by which this policy could be achieved.  A copy of the Draft Common Tourism Policy document is available on the CMA website.  

It is interesting to note that there are 24 references to yachting within the report.  One passage is worth quoting to illustrate the importance yachting has acquired in the Draft Common Tourism Policy.

‘Yachting visitors represent a lucrative market for the OECS with opportunities for the further development of linked activities, skills  development and employment.  Clearance procedures and customs regulation vary from country to country. This is confusing and can cause visitors to spend a considerable proportion of their holiday time on clearance procedures.  This both reduces the appeal of the OECS as a yachting destination and acts as a significant impediment to intra‐regional travel by yachting visitors.  The harmonisation of procedures for yachting visitors will substantially enhance the appeal of the region. Ideally the principle of undergoing full clearance procedures on arrival in the region, with a simpler approach for subsequent border crossings, should be applied to facilitate passage throughout the islands and improve the competitive appeal of the region as a yachting destination. 

While streamlining and expediting customs clearance of visiting yachts is a major issue, data on yacht visits will still need to be captured efficiently and effectively for each destination for monitoring and marketing purposes.  Region‐wide implementation of the eSeaClear pre-arrival notification system will be a significant step towards addressing this obstacle.’

The conference/workshop opened with an address from Antigua’s Minister of Tourism, the Hon. John Maginley.  Much of Mr Maginley’s speech to the conference was an impassioned plea for the recognition of the value of yachting to the tourism product.

The conference/workshop was broken up into groups and much of the discussion on the first day concentrated on facilitating the movement of yachts not only in and out of individual countries but also around the region.  The second day concentrated more on the broader issues.

The 50 page report was summarised by 20 proposals for action or measures.  Stakeholders were asked to classify the measures in order of priority and this was done quite scientifically.  The outcome slightly surprised everyone but it was a true reflection of the overall view but not to everyone’s satisfaction, particularly the relatively low rating of Environmental Sustainability although this area is already well covered by the OECSProtection of the Eastern Caribbean’s Regional Diversity (PERB) project funded by USAID

The stakeholders determined that Product Development, which addresses issues of inter-island access and joint development of tourism products such as yachting, was the top priority followed by Human Resources Development – the ambassador the tourist first meets at the Customs & Immigration post or at the airport.  The person who can ‘make your day’ or ruin your holiday. As the consultants continually emphasised, there is a lot more to Human Resources than just Customs & Immigration.  Most of Human Resources personnel are behind the scenes and never have direct dealings with the public.

Next in importance was Tourism Awareness. It was generally accepted that residents including politicians can be insensitive to simple issues such as litter which can be damaging to the tourism experience and all populations need to be educated in this area..

Inevitably, lower down the list of priorities, measures scored similarly and those that did included Border Control, Regional Air Access, Investment and Research & Statistics.

Anyone wishing to submit a comment should do so to info@caribbeanmarineassociation.com   To see a copy of the Draft Common Tourism Policy document go to http://www.caribbeanmarineassociation.com/v2/objectives.php

My thanks go to Dr. Lorraine Nicholas PhD of the OECS Secretariat and Tom Buncle of the Yellow Railroad for supplying facts and comments.

John J Duffy – President, Caribbean Marine Association

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