Yachting providing new opportunities for the Caribbean
Fritz Pinnock* and Ibrahim Ajagunna**
The popularity of the Caribbean as a cruising and yachting destination is global. Experts point out that the Caribbean is an essential part of the global cruise product, accounting for more than 45% of the world cruise tourism market.
From all indications, the popularity of the Caribbean as cruise and yacht destination will continue to increase. In the period 2008-2014, anticipated growth in the cruise and yacht industry resulted in an exponential demand for mega-size cruise ships and megayachts. This has created a significant demand for facilities ranging from relatively modest upgrading to massive projects creating vast new tourist facilities and marinas.
The design of the mega cruise ships vessels, with all the amenities of an all-inclusive floating hotel, essentially demanded marketing of the shipboard experience as the main selling point for travelers. So, in marketing cruises, ships replaced ports as the cruise destination.
At a recently concluded Seatrade cruise global conference in Fort Lauderdale, experts pointed out that there has never been a better time than now to take a cruise. The claim of the experts was that, in 2016-2017, there would be a record-setting 24 million people taking a vacation by ship. This has led some of the cruise lines to keep launching new ships, itineraries, and amenities to lure first-timers as well as repeat guests.
This investment on the part of the cruise lines suggests that new cruise terminals will have to be built. Many of the small countries who are yet to expand their terminals to accommodate mega ships will therefore need to make plans.
Six hot trends that are shaping cruising and yachting now and will continue to shape the future are discussed below.
- Cuba, considered the ‘new girl at the dance party’ will attract many more cruise lines, including those that are already serving the country. The experts believe that Cuba will enhance the itineraries in the Caribbean when fully developed but it will take a while for Cuba to realize its potential.
- River cruising is bouncing back in some parts of Europe. This is a new trend as some cruise lines are taking interest in river cruising. This will see many cruise lines investing in smaller vessels of less than 200 passengers. CroisiEurope, Viking Cruises and Ama Waterways are already in the business of river cruising.
- Crystal Cruises will expand its product offerings. At the 2016 Seatrade in Fort Lauderdale, Crystal Cruises announced a new megayacht, Crystal Endeavour which will start sailing Antarctica by 2018. The company also announced its Crystal-branded Bombardier Global Express XRS jet, a 12-passenger plane that will be available for charters to and from cruises. Published reports state that the company plans to add to its fleet a Boeing 777 and 787 in 2017 and 2018. These initiatives could result in expanded market coverage.
- This is the age of grail for megayachts: Since the beginning of the 1990s, the number of ultra large yachts has risen rapidly and, increasingly, only yachts above 65 metres (213ft.) stand out among other luxury yachts. Yachts of this size are in most cases built for individual commissions and they cost tens of millions of dollars. This is now changing. Cruise lines operators pointed out at Fort Lauderdale Seatrade that a number of operators are now creating a new category of small-ship vacations that blend elements of expedition ships and luxury vessels. According to experts, this new development signals an industry-wide shift to attract younger, more active and wealthier travelers. Their size will allow them to go to ports where there won’t be a 3,000-passenger vessel in sight.
- More and more ships are becoming the destinations. Today, a cruise ship offers the experience of a hotel and destination in one. The newest ships are offering unprecedented onboard experiences and amenities. The experience includes Broadway productions, designer shops; zip lining, bumper cars, Wi-Fi, Internet services, surfing, rock-climbing … and more.
- Cruise Volunteerism is getting popular.
Responding to these new trends in cruising and yachting, growth in both markets in the Caribbean has been substantial, for both charter cruises and bare boating. We (Ajagunna and Pinnock) have previously pointed out that popular cruising grounds are centered in the northern Caribbean and the Grenadines, where a variety of port of call are within easy cruising distance of each other. For the future, continued growth in both cruising and yachting is expected, paralleling a rising interest in recreational boating in most developed countries.
Antigua’s Sail Week
Antigua’s Sailing Week for example, is perhaps the premier event in yachting in the Caribbean, attracting up to 500 yachts in the month of April each year.
Like the cruise market, the yachting market provides direct and indirect benefits to the Caribbean. Experts have previously pointed out that, in many islands of the Caribbean, the contribution of the yachting sector may very well surpass that of the cruise ship sector. However, the magnitude of such a contribution appears to be largely unknown or not recognized by government and the public at large.
It is time that governments and the local population recognize the importance of the yachting and earmark more investment funds and resources so as to exploit the opportunities offered by this specialized market. For example British Virgin Islands has a fleet of over 10,000 charter vessels, which cumulatively has a greater economic impact than that of the seasonal cruise tourism industry.
According to experts, the economic impact of the yacht industry is huge. For example, one yacht supports hundreds of jobs throughout its lifetime. Also the order numbers far outdistance the numbers of yachts going out of service. The superyacht industry is set to continue in its path of growth for years to come.
As part of this growth, the super yacht industry will increasingly attract new clients from areas of growing interest. Every Caribbean country has its own unique character – not only its colourful history and culture but also its topography. From the un-spoilt rainforest and black sandy beaches of Dominica; to European-influenced St Kitts, with its old plantation houses and glamorous hotels, all countries have something unique to offer. Exploring the Caribbean by yacht is a wonderful way to appreciate the region and its unique qualities; to again experience a country as the destination. 
- First published November 1, 2017
* Dr. Pinnock is Executive Director of the Caribbean Maritime Institute
** Dr. Ajagunna is Director of Academic Studies, Caribbean Maritime Institute.