The 90-million dollar superyacht “Go” (on the right) docked in Simpson Bay Lagoon.
PHILIPSBURG--St. Maarten is a top port of call for superyachts and their billionaire owners, yet the government pays little attention to the yachting sector.
“While the yachting sector plays an important role in St. Maarten’s economy, the lack of consistent data collection prevents systematically measuring the growth and impact of this market segment,” according to Dutch-funded research.
The St Maarten Tourism Recovery: 2020-2022 Priority Action Plan financed by the government of the Netherlands and managed by the World Bank, states: “The yachting market was identified in St. Maarten’s 2005 tourism strategic plan as one of the key growth markets. However, this segment suffers from rare measurement, with the last comprehensive survey on this segment conducted in 2012.”
Tourists gather near the Simpson Bay bridge to see the superyachts sail in.
Luxury yachts in Porto Cupecoy Marina.
The reason the government of St. Maarten has no insight into the size of the yachting sector in St Maarten and does not know how much money and employment this sector generates for the island is privacy concerns, according to the drafters of the 2020-2022 Priority Action Plan: “Yachting crew and passengers tend to value privacy, making data collection difficult.”
Many yachts use Simpson Bay and Cole Bay as their homeports for provisions, fuel and for maintenance and repairs. “This sub-sector then also contributes to significant job opportunities and earnings,” it is noted. “A 2011 economic impact study of the St Maarten marine sector indicated that in 2011 the total contribution of the yachting sector to GDP [gross domestic product – Ed.] was estimated at US $31 million.”
The estimated earnings for St. Maarten are only half of what Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich pays for yacht maintenance. According to Market Herald magazine, Abramovich pays $65 million a year for maintenance. His $1.2 billion superyacht Eclipse has docked in St Maarten several times.
The Eclipse docked in Great Bay in December 2019 along with more than 50 other superyachts in both Port St. Maarten and Simpson Bay Lagoon. The count swelled from 16 to 52 vessels in November that year, leading all countries in month-over-month change and placing St. Maarten sixth on the yacht leader board. Antigua was seventh.
Simpson Bay Lagoon, Great Bay and Oyster Pond are also a haven for a highly varied fleet of day-charter yachts that supply an important attraction to tourists. Increasingly, homeporting ships are designed to provide a particular experience and are specialised in that niche.
This degree of specialisation was not present in 2002, when 32 delegates from eight Eastern Caribbean nations and territories met in Port of Spain, Trinidad, to examine the contribution of the yachting tourism sector to social and economic development in the Eastern Caribbean region as a whole.
The meeting marked a pivotal point in a two-year project organised by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and funded by the Dutch Government, titled “Development of a Regional Marine-based Tourism Strategy”.
The meeting was described as a “historic moment – the first regional conference on the yachting sector in the Eastern Caribbean.” The objective was to utilise the previously collected data in articulating an effective framework for the management of the yachting sector, thereby maximising its potential contribution to the region’s development goals.