Yacht tourism has been a growth industry worldwide over the past 10 years and was basically unaffected by the global economic crisis, making it an area of opportunity for many Pacific Islands countries.
Fiji has always enjoyed good business in the yachting area, mainly because of the country’s geographic placement, but was hindered in some of the opportunity areas by restrictive and somewhat archaic marine and immigration laws.
There is now increasing interest from around the world amongst superyachts for the Pacific as a base of operations because the traditional area for charter cruising during the Northern Hemisphere winter, the Caribbean, is overused, the environment not clean and safety issues are becoming a concern. So cruising yachts, particularly the superyachts, are turning to the Pacific as a cruising and charter area.
Superyachts are generally motor powered, over 50 metres in length, luxuriously fitted with all sorts of toys including helicopters, and carry a crew of between 12 and 18. Generally, they have accommodation for 12 guests.
The yacht tourism sector is growing rapidly in Fiji, due mainly to a decision by the government to provide a better legal environment for the industry.
The Superyacht Decree of 2010, first tabled in late 2009 by the Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, puts in place a number of initiatives to assist with the viability of the industry.
This decree has now been implemented for the last 12 months and the results have been spectacular.
In early May, there were two superyachts (complete with their own helicopters sitting on the back deck) and a number of smaller charter yachts at the Port Denarau marina and a number operating from other ports in Fiji.
The untouched beauty of the islands, the unpolluted environment and the very friendly attitude of the local people combine to enhance the attraction of the destination.
Another factor in Fiji’s favour is the relative ease of access. Most charter passengers fly in, take the charter and then fly out again, so airline services are important.
Air Pacific, the country’s national carrier, offers excellent connections to all the main source markets with flights departing Los Angeles late afternoon and arriving early the next morning in Nadi, the gateway to the cruising areas.
Fiji also has a number of quality marinas and excellent facilities for servicing yachts. Yachts can charter out of a selected port knowing that both regular maintenance and emergency repairs can be undertaken without too much trouble.
A survey of the impact of superyachts on the tourist industry in Fiji has just been completed.
It was conducted by the Port Denarau marina for the FIHTA Marine Industry Committee.
It is estimated that in 2010, 700 yachts came to Fiji, 32 of which were superyachts.
The survey sample covered 50 vessels. The survey only covers the revenue generated by foreign yachts visiting Fiji and does not take into account revenue from the domestic yacht market.
The total revenue from foreign yachts was estimated at FJ$33 million; FJ$3.9 million from superyachts and FJ$21.8 million from yachts and the direct contribution to the government revenue was over FJ$3.8 million. Departing guests also paid over FJ$613,000 in departure tax.
Over sixty percent of the guests flew by the national carrier, Air Pacific, contributing an estimated FJ$6.6 million to their revenue.
In total, there were 1006 guests on 32 superyachts and 4567 guests on visiting yachts as well as a total of 1863 crew.
Superyachts stayed in Fiji waters for an average of 136 days and visiting yachts for an average of 116 days.
By contrast, in 2010, cruise ship visits totalled 63 calls to various ports with an estimated total of 96,000 passengers, and average stay of just over a day and a contribution to the Fiji economy of FJ$6.4 million.
Although cruise ships bring significantly more passengers to Fiji, the impact on the economy is very much smaller than for yachts.
Nigel Skeegs, of Port Denarau Marina, says “Fiji is entering a very exciting phase in tourism, of which we hope to see yachting in Fiji as a major contributor to our economy.
“The Government of Fiji has made many changes of late with the extension of visiting yachts time allowed in the country to 18 months, duty on importation of yachts to 5%, the Super Yacht Charter Decree and, finally, the refinement of the outdated domestic clearance legislation.
“Both Port Denarau Marina and Vuda Marina are working very closely with relevant government departments in the hope of becoming ports of entry to ultimately give the visiting tourist a more streamlined and cleaner method of entering and exiting the country.
“The Fiji Navy has also taken over all hydrographic services for Fiji and are about to embark on a huge project of resurveying Fiji waters.
“With many soundings dating back to pre-World War One and chart datums being incorrect, this will be a welcome resource for our domestic boating community as well as that of our visitors.”
Skeegs said one of the biggest concerns for the yachting industry in Fiji now is the lack of marinas and berths for both yachts and superyachts.
“For the industry to grow, we need facilities spread throughout Fiji and this requires considerable investment in dredging and infrastructure.
“Unfortunately, with all marinas in Fiji being under price control, there is no incentive to build and develop by marinas.
“The Commerce Commission is controlling all charges by marinas including the protection of all foreign vessels and superyacht charges,” Skeegs said.
However, the industry is confident the yachting tourism in Fiji, particularly the superyacht segment, is poised for growth in the next two years.
There are a number of infrastructure developments planned that will make the area even more attractive for chartering.
In addition, the Fiji government continues to seek ways to support the industry.
by John Ross