For the first time ever, there was a co-ordinated Caribbean presence at the 57th annual Toronto International Boat Show (TIBS), which ended last weekend.
Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) member countries Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines (SVG) were represented as a collective at North America’s largest indoor boat show at the Direct Energy Centre.
Some 20 representatives from the public and private yachting sector attended the show under the “Eastern Caribbean Village” banner to promote the OECS islands as a single yachting destination.
A new OECS economic union treaty was ratified in January 2011, paving the way for a single financial and economic space.
“There are a number of sectors that we will be working collaboratively on as we move to make the region a single operating space and one of them is tourism which is a key sector in our region,” said OECS tourism officer, Dr. Lorraine Nicholas. “As a result, we would like to work together as a region to ensure that we derive economies of scale from this sector and ensure that the islands are in a position to benefit in a synergistic manner.”
Dr. Nicholas said the yachting sector provides an ideal opportunity to mobilize the economic union’s shared benefits and is an obvious avenue to develop the OECS as a single economic space.
“The yachting sector is growing exponentially,” she said. “We have recognized that this sector has tremendous economic potential. The demographics of persons who participate in this sector are appealing to us because they belong to the high socio-economic status and we certainly want to tap into that market.”
Close to 90,000 visitors attended this year’s TIBS, which is a pre-eminent selling venue for Canada’s recreational boating industry and the premiere showcase for new products.
“This is an attractive boat show for the OECS countries because of good visiting numbers and the fact that the event falls at a time of year when people are normally busy and looking forward to the business they are going to be getting a year or two ahead,” said John West, a yacht charter operator in SVG and OECS consultant who attended the TIBS as a visitor last year.
An architect in England, West fell in love with SVG while on vacation almost 25 years ago and decide to settle there in 1995.
The TMM Yacht Charters owner said the yachting industry in the OECS and broader Caribbean is flourishing.
“It’s the one single sector of the tourism product that has really held up since the recessionary years of 2008 and 2009 and that is because of the people that charter yachts,” said West. “They are the ones that were least affected by the recession. It’s the only sector right across the OECS that the numbers are steady and gradually increasing.”
James Pascall, an Englishman who has been living in Grenada for the past 16 years, agreed with West.
“An economic report from a consultant published last year showed that in 2012, the yachting industry contributed almost Can$65 million to the Grenadian economy,” said Pascall, who is the director of Horizon Yacht Charters and Horizon Motor Yachts. “That’s very significant when you compare it with the cruise ship industry which accounted for about half that total. Many yacht people want to come to Grenada because it’s a beautiful location on the doorstep of the Grenadines with stunning sunsets, unspoilt islands, turquoise waters, secret bays, hidden anchorages and breathtaking vistas.
This was Pascall’s third visit to the TIBS.
“In 2013, I came up representing the private industry of Grenada through a grant we obtained from the Marine and Yachting Association of Grenada,” he said. “That was a successful show for us because we had a number of Caribbean countries around us participating in that show. It was a little bit like the field we have here in that people could come in and enjoy a Caribbean-style presentation.
“Last year, Grenada, Antigua & Barbuda and St. Vincent & the Grenadines were here in different locations and it didn’t work well because we were completely diluted. It was a massive achievement by the OECS that we obtained funding from the European Union to jointly market ourselves and come to shows like this one. The significant part about this boat show is that it’s the most cost-effective and easiest away of tapping into the Canadian market and creating awareness of our product which, in this case, is our sailing destination. As a whole, we carry far more weight than we would ever do if we were presenting on an individual country basis.”
Funding for the OECS to attend the TIBS was provided under the 10th European Development Fund initiative.
This is the second major boat show that the OECS has attended. Last October, the eastern Caribbean was represented at the Annapolis Boat Show in Maryland.
“We conducted a survey at that boat show and found that while most people know about the individual islands, many were unaware of the OECS’s existence,” said Nicholas, who is based in St. Lucia. “So events like the Toronto International Boat Show give us an opportunity not only to promote our yachting sector, but also sell the OECS and its islands as a single venue.”
Under the Treaty of Basseterre signed in 1981, the OECS alliance was created to, among other things, promote economic integration and establish arrangements for joint overseas representation and common services.