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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Is Barbados Missing The Boat In Yachting

A recent Business Week podcast highlighted the rise and rapid expansion of a new phenomenon in yachting - the mega-yacht and how it has caught marina developers off guard. Many marinas in the Caribbean and elsewhere are now rushing to satisfy this market. Next door in St. Lucia Rodney Bay is upgrading to provide berthing for 50 mega-yachts at one time, and also coming on stream is the redevelopment of the main marina on St. Thomas to handle mega-yachts specifically, as well as several marina projects in the Dominican Republic with mega-yacht components including the massive AtlanticA project. Of course, focusing on mega-yachts is not to overlook the virtual explosion in yachting generally and in tourism related marina construction across the Caribbean.

Where does Barbados sit in all of this excitement about potentially the richest niche of high-end tourism? - in a word not good. Yes, we have Port St. Charles, a successful luxury residential marina on the north west coast which is being copied elsewhere in the region like at the new The Landings residential marina project next door to the Rodney Bay Marina in St. Lucia. But lacking natural harbours and vacant lands for major marina development and being about a hundred miles outside the arc of the island chain has means that Barbados is not exactly at the tip of the tongue of many yachtsmen plying the Caribbean. So, the question is whether our not we are going to allow these potential negatives to keep us from reaping the fruits of the explosion in tourism yachting in the Caribbean.

This brings up the question of the Pierhead Project which is suppose to have a 180-slip marina component that has been languishing for many years. As is usual in Barbados for big undertakings of this kind the main problem seems to be money, i.e., a lack of it. The last real excitement about this project was when Le Meridien got onboard with the hotel component; but whatever funds they may or may not have been bringing to the table probably dried up when they themselves were gobbled up by Starwood Hotels which is currently in a mad rush getting out of the property ownership business and into the "management-only" business. Therefore, if anything big is to happen at the Pierhead it is going to call for bold leadership and foresight.

If we had let a little thing like lacking a natural harbour stop us from constructing a deep water port back in the late 1950s, we would still be tendering sugar in bags to ships moored in Carlisle Bay today, not to mention still lacking the world-class cruise tourism terminal the Port of Bridgetown is today. If we had let a little thing like being outside the arc of the island chain stop the construction of Seawell Airport back in the 1950s, we would not have the regional hub the Grantley Adams International is today, not to mention the island with one of the most successful tourism sectors in the entire Caribbean. The Pierhead project needs to be re-emphasized, retooled and repositoned as our next major leap forward in tourism. We are already 20 years behind St. Lucia which 16 years ago stole from us the lucrative ARC race (by the way - "the largest transocean sailing event in the world") and with the current lack of boldness and leadership in marina development on the island we may still miss the boat entirely.

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