In just over a month’s time, from December 7 to 11, St Maarten will be hosting its inaugural Charter Yacht Exhibition and Caribbean Boat Show. As All At Sea went to press, 45 yachts were registered, of which four were sailboats, as well as some 40 brokers and vendors.
Choosing to start the debut show on the day the 43rd Antigua Charter Yacht Meeting ends was a provocative gesture. To date, only one yacht was registered for both shows, although brokers were expected to spend three days at each. Was the intention to launch an ‘us or them’ custody battle with Antigua over the region’s charter market or the opposite – to allow brokers to view scores of yachts in two different islands with no time wasted in between?
Exhibition Chair Kass Johnson-Halliday talked to All At Sea to set the record straight.
“I’ve always stressed that it’s important to promote the Caribbean as a destination,” she says. The spirit, then, will be co-operation. The Antigua Marine Trades Association has accepted an invitation to take a booth at the St Maarten Exhibition, and will in turn host the St Maarten MTA in Antigua.
Where is the clear water, though, between the two shows?
“For the most part, it’s a chance to bring a lot of brokers here who’ve never been here before and they have a big influence on where their clients meet their charters,” she says. “The boats we have in St Maarten are large, important, high-end charter yachts, so the brokers are coming here to see them. Secondly, it’s an opportunity for the management companies to see how efficient we are here.”
St Maarten is a duty free island, meaning that if a boat needs parts or supplies, they can be on board within an hour of arriving at the airport.
Bringing the show to St Maarten has meant a lot of effort, by many people, over a considerable period: “We’ve been wanting to get it started for about three years,” says Johnson-Halliday. “We really started to move on it in January last year when the bridge was widened. There wasn’t any point in doing a boat show if you couldn’t get the boats in. 12 of the 42 yachts are over 150 feet. We’re really appealing to the really big boat class.” The show comes under the aegis of the Marine Trades Association, but an eight-strong operating committee has been working full-time to make the event a reality.
I asked what would qualify as a success, once the show is over. According to Kass, “I think realistically for the first year we can’t base it on numbers. We have a very respectable number of boats registered already but we can’t expect 150 boats this year. But if everything goes to plan and all the captains are happy, that’s what we’ll call a success.”
Although the Exhibition is closed to the public, not least because of recent ISPS regulations, the show will benefit St Maarten as a whole. “There’s a huge trickledown effect to the island,” says Johnson-Halliday. “People don’t realize the amount of money that goes out of the marine sector to these islands. The private planes, the airport fees, the jet fuel, the taxi drivers, restaurants…”
In addition, a large proportion of the event profits will be allocated to apprentice programs and scholarships for St Maarten youngsters to receive training in the marine industry.
For a full program, list of attendees and breaking news, visit www.mybacaribbeanshow.com