Opposition Leader Godwin Friday says St. Vincent and the Grenadines should give sailors temporary residents in the country as a way of attracting more sailors to the country.
The Northern Grenadines MP said the Grenadines is world-famous among sailors, but the destination has lost much ground over the last 15 years.
He told the Budget Debate that the country must believe that it can recover the lost ground and its leadership role in the yachting sector in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.
He urged the government to think of innovative programmes that can be used to attract yachts to the country and to get them to stay longer.
“Don’t treat them as somehow they’re suspicious people that you have to try and get rid of when the six weeks are up and the immigration permit or whatever it is expires — they have to go out of the country and come back and so forth,” Friday said.
He said that when yachts leave, they might not return to SVG but might travel to another Caribbean island.
Friday suggested that yachts “of a certain net worth be granted temporary residence to stay in St. Vincent on their boat and they come here and they can use this as their base”.
He said that in this way, these yachts will use SVG for provisioning and meetings with friends.
“This is their home away from home but they live on their boats and these are people who are retired, have some income;’ they’re not coming here to take anything from anybody,” he told Parliament.
He said that the country will benefit from the spending that these yachties do, adding that for such a programme to work, there must be security in place.
“I could think of places like Wallilabou, Cumberland, Port Elizabeth, Mayreau, Union Island and so forth,” Friday said.
“That is a way to get them to think of us differently, to think of us not just as a place you stop but this is home as well.”
He said that in this way, the country would rid itself of “some of those vibes that you used to get when the government introduced and triple the fees on yachts or when you hear stories of yacht invasions that take place, people boarding yachts and robbing people”.
Last December, the opposition leader told Parliament there had been a spate of yacht break-ins in Admiralty Bay, Bequia resulting in bad publicity for SVG as a destination among yacht travellers.
During the Budget Debate, the opposition leaders also suggested that the government invest in the building of more marinas.
“In Grenada, they have, I don’t know, must be nine, 10, 11,” he said, adding that marinas attract boats.
“We should put the same or greater emphasis on getting these things established so we can reclaim that industry as we’re doing now, for example, to create bed space, hotel rooms and so on, on the mainland, which is critically important as well,” Friday told Parliament.
The opposition leader continued:
“You just have to talk to one of the guys who operate boats around here and they’ll tell you the difference in the attitude and in the services and in the vibe and the activity and so on that you see going on in Grenada, St. Lucia as compared to what’s happening here in St. Vincent. So, let’s get with the programme. Those are two ideas that maybe they will make it into the estimates and the budget next year.”
He said that St. Vincent used to be far and away ahead of even Antigua, St. Lucia and Grenada as a sailing destination.
Now St. Lucia and Grenada have gone ahead of us in terms of arrivals in terms of activity,” he said.
Friday said that the country must have a plan. “You can’t just simply wish that it would happen,” he said, noting that in 2002, one year after coming to office — the Unity Labour Party government increased, dramatically, the fees on yachts coming into the country.
“That had a terrible effect. A lot of yachts stayed away,” he said, adding that it was not that they opposed the fees, “is that they felt that the fees are being paid but no services will be provided in return. There was no security…”
The opposition leader said he believes that the country has to devise and execute a plan to regain lost ground but nothing to that effect is in the EC$1.4 billion budget for 2023.
“Yacht tourism is a big income earner. In fact, it is one of the biggest income earners because, unlike cruise tourism, the yachts, they sit in the bay…” he said.
The opposition leader said there are many ways in which people make money from the yachting sector, including by providing food and drink, fruit and vegetables, ice, laundry services, and sail repairs.