steady growth of recreational boating – an industry worth some $30
billion in the US alone
– has arguably transformed parts of the Caribbean
as much – per visitor – as the timeshare or cruise sectors.
One of the companies currently
pushing forward the changing landscape locally is
Texas group Sun Resorts International.
Created in the mid-90s, Sun is now a $95-million business in charge of 12
marinas and some 3,000 boat slips. Within the region, the group has acquired St
Thomas’s American Yacht Harbor (2001), St Maarten’s Simpson Bay Marina (2002), Virgin Gorda
Yacht Harbor (2004, with the BVI investment club) and
Tortola’s Village Cay Marina (2005).
Sun’s aim is to amass a
30-strong portfolio that includes marinas in the Caribbean, US Gulf Coast, East
Coast and Mexico.
In marine terms, this puts Sun firmly among the high-rollers.
Harbor’s Chris Petty, “Many companies have attempted
to accomplish what Sun is trying to do now. It seems as if the threshold for
marina companies has been around 10 properties, and most have struggled to grow
While Sun’s plan is for each
development to retain its individual character, the overall push by various
companies to homogenize the Caribbean marina
is designed to target a new, more affluent cruiser. On the evidence,
today’s Antillean yachtie wants the same
consistency of service from his marina as he would expect from an international
hotel chain. That means modern booking systems, rates that reward loyalty, and
technical support of a consistently high standard. As Petty says, “Owners
can see the Sun Resorts Logo and be assured that their vessel will be well
taken care of and their experience at our marinas safe and pleasant.”
Another aspect of this modern
marina growth is property development. ‘Real estate’ marinas, which
include a sizeable condominium/ studio component, are much less risky as an
investment than traditional family-run, boat-only marinas. An apartment block
or two for the landlubbers keeps revenue ticking over during the hurricane
season and increases the demand for on-site shops and services.
The emergence of the
‘branded’ marina may not cater to every cruiser’s taste, and
won’t even register with those who prefer to drop the hook. But for those
who like to back into a slip and plug in to shore power, or leave their boat
for longer periods, it’s time to prepare for the expected.