Mega yachts at Skyport Marina, Simpson Bay. (Robert Luckock photo)
SIMPSON BAY–The 2020/2021 mega yacht season in St. Maarten has been shortened due to yachts wanting to return to US waters to avoid a possible 14-day quarantine that might be imposed by the new Joe Biden administration, Island Global Yachting’s (IGY) Regional Director for the Caribbean Brian Deher disclosed over the weekend.
This, and the strict French travel restrictions in general, are factors that have led to the season “bottoming out” in St. Maarten earlier than expected, Deher confirmed, noting that all Dutch-side marinas are affected.
“It is happening, but not to the Mediterranean,” he said of the exodus. “We are hoping it’s not a permanent move. But American yachts prefer to be in St. Thomas or South Florida because there is a fear that the Biden administration will impose a quarantine on travel into the US.
“That said, it has not happened but to get ahead of that, it is what the yachts are doing and focusing on charters in the Bahamas, South Florida or the US Virgin Islands for now. American owners can fly into St. Thomas, use their yacht and fly back to the US without technically leaving the US and therefore no quarantine. Ironically, for these reasons, St. Thomas is set to have its best season ever, after a very good one in 2020.”
If the vaccine roll-out in the US gathers pace, however, and new daily COVID-19 cases come down, the Biden administration might not impose the quarantine which would give yachts the confidence to leave St. Thomas and return to their normal charter bases.
The reality is that St. Maarten marinas are experiencing very low occupancy, by Deher’s estimate, the industry is 50 per cent down on historical norms, and that clearly has a negative impact on St. Maarten’s economy. This season has also seen more owner usage than charters.
But a season is better than no season, and with a good November and December he was quick to praise the St. Maarten government for coming up with testing facilities and an arrival policy that was unambiguous and perfect from a charter perspective.
“The hope going forward is that we can all get vaccinated here at a faster pace than bigger countries that have millions of people to vaccinate, and I think yachts will still tend to stay in the Caribbean and possibly the US more, rather than going over to the Mediterranean,” he predicted. “Last year was a very difficult summer charter season in Europe with all the health protocols. So, the Caribbean does have the potential to have a better shoulder season going into the Summer.”
Deher recalled that prior to the vaccines coming out, charter activity was a lot stronger.
“There were a lot of bookings at the end of 2020 for the high season, but when the vaccine came out people thought yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel, so decided to do their trip three, four or five months later after getting vaccinated first. It seemed there were a lot of cancellations around the time the vaccines came out.”
Deher emphasised that this is the situation now, but it is one that is continually evolving, country to country, region to region, dependent on the health situation.
“Yachts really don’t know where to go, they are playing a sort of nautical musical chairs. A new condition comes around and St. Maarten is no longer the ideal place to be as it was in December. But it’s through no fault of government or anyone in the industry.”