Yachting body

IN 2018, the Chaguaramas peninsula attracted 771 yachts that sailed into the west Trinidad community seeking to get their vessels repaired or to replenish their supplies.

Last year, only 62 yachts docked at Chaguaramas, which represents a 92 per cent decline in three years.

This grim picture was painted by vice president and public relations officer of the Yacht Services Association of Trinidad and Tobago (YSATT) Jesse James, during an interview on Friday with the Express Business.

With statistical data to support his point, James said that in 2017, 660 yachts arrived at Chaguaramas; in 2018, it was 771, in 2019, 284 and in 2020 from January to March, 188 yachts docked. March 2020 was the month that the Government ordered the closure of T&T’s borders due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Another startling figure was the approximate revenue being spent by the visiting yachties. James said last year about US$500,000 was spent compared to other years when yachties would have spent as much as US$15 million.

James said these numbers are disappointing and depressing, knowing where the industry was some years ago to where it is now.

“Just before Covid arrived in this country, the numbers were starting to decrease, but the numbers dramatically dropped after Covid, as there was little or no help by the Government to allow the yachts to arrive in the hurricane season in 2020. This caused YSATT to lose their usual customers to other neighbouring countries.”

James explained the arrival of 62 yachts last year was mainly to fix the boats that need critical repairs as Trinidad is known for the best boat repair yards in the Caribbean.

The low number of visiting yachties and the reduction in revenue, he said, has caused businesses in the Chaguaramas area to close their doors. This includes Massy Stores which was at CrewsInn and Jacqueline’s Patisserie, which was located in the Coral Cove compound. The Zanzibar Restaurant also closed its doors and Republic Bank has closed its ATM in Chaguaramas as well. And now the only ATM available is in the Peake’s Compound.

Contractors and small businesses operating in the area also told James that they are currently operating on 30 to 40 per cent while others are between 60 to 70 per cent.

“These small businesses that had the capacity to do big jobs cannot anymore as their workers, between three to six persons, have moved on either to Grenada or out of the sector,” James said, adding many small businesses have closed or migrated to Grenada, as the yacht industry there is booming and has work.

“Some of the small businesses are just trying to hang on, but have had to depend on income from outside the industry. The 30 to 40 per cent of businesses that have remained are struggling to stay afloat,” he said.

“Chaguaramas is almost like a ghost town now,” James said.

T&T not easy

With frustration in his voice, the yachting association representative lamented that another big problem that is deterring the yachts from sailing to T&T is the level of bureacracy on entry.

James outlined that the process to enter this country’s waters as opposed to other countries, can be frustrating.

“The bureaucracy to process the vessels is very difficult and without government facilitation makes it harder and more stressful for cruisers to enter Trinidad and Tobago. This is why they are seeking more efficient services in Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, and Martinique,” he said.

It’s against this background, that YSATT is reiterating its call for the Single Harmonised form, to simplify the documentation process for arriving vessels.

“The ease of doing business in the sector is lacking big time and many yacht owners have expressed their desire to come into our waters for the hurricane season, but are just sceptical of the hassle, which they do not experience in other Caribbean countries. This industry is a low-hanging fruit where millions in foreign exchange can be generated, but it is being neglected by the Government,” James said.

Express Business visited the Ministry of Trade and Industry website which noted that the ministry, in collaboration with both the private and public sectors, has been preparing a Yachting Policy, 2017-2021. Overall, the goal of the policy is to improve the economic contribution of the yachting industry through increased foreign exchange earnings, increased employment and more business activity in the form of yachting related services. The specific objectives of the policy are to:

• Improve and expand Trinidad and Tobago’s yachting product;

• reform and strengthen the legal and regulatory framework;

• improve the human resource and technical capacity in the yachting industry; and

• improve the environmental and social sustainability of the yachting industry.

However, when asked if any of the objectives have been executed James said, no and he feels the industry is being left to collapse as the Government has plans for that part of the peninsula.

Potential

Mark Edghill, president of the T&T Coalition of Services Industries (TTCSI) which represents YSATT, said the sector is one with enormous potential and is an extremely low-hanging fruit for attracting foreign exchange as it requires very little government investment and facilitation to propel the sector forward.

“Since assuming the role as president at the TTCSI we have identified with the input of YSATT and other stakeholders, what areas of the sector require urgent attention and intervention in order to capitalise on all opportunities and propel T&T to being the number one choice of destinations for the global yacht repair market.

“We have engaged the ministry to take action for this sector and we are extremely pleased at the recent interest, focus and intent of the Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon to see this industry achieve its potential.

“We arranged an introduction tour of the yacht service providers on the western peninsula to provide first hand insight into the current state of the industry, the challenges and more so the potential,” Edghill said.

He said that he is disappointed by the huge drop in arrivals of vessels, as it has taken too long for this sector to be paid sufficient attention and to have simple issues resolved.

He stressed that in order to improve the ease of doing business to attract the yachts the Single Harmonised form must be implemented.

“We have discussed other service-based initiatives to provide a more welcoming environment upon entry as well as improvements in processes and services available. We have also been looking into the safety and security on the waters on route to Trinidad as well as while in port or more offshore in designated areas.

Initiatives for sustainability have also been discussed to maintain and continue the future growth of the sector,” Edghill added.

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