The rush to experience the untouched remnants of a bygone communist era is picking up pace, with flocks of tourists making their way over the short intersect to Havana before it all changes. When President Obama announced the easing of restrictions, many jumped at the chance to visit.
Cuba has captured the attention of environmentalists and investors alike, with tourism spiking this year now that relations between the US and the island nation have begun to thaw. According to Bloomberg Business, some 1.7million people visited the communist island in the first five months of this year.
Carnival Corp has already received confirmation that they will be able to cruise to the island next year. Are Cuba prepared for the plethora of tourism and the expectations of the UHNWI’s of the world?
SuperyachtNews.com spoke to consultant Bob Saxon about what all this means for Cuba and yachting in the American precinct. “Cuba presents a very interesting scenario so far as yachting is concerned,” Saxon begins. “Momentum towards the lifting of the embargo, thus enabling unimpeded travel for Americans to the island has picked up pace, most recently it was with an agreement to establish diplomatic presences in the respective countries.” A recent announcement declared that a US embassy had been opened in Havana, Cuba, whilst a Cuban embassy being opened in Washington DC.
Saxon described the winter season in the Caribbean as having “wall to wall megayachts” and he theorised that the volume of activity (average number of weeks en masse) has remained relatively constant. However, the charter fleet has expanded exponentially with no corresponding marketing effort to support an across-the-board volume increase in charters. He comments further, “Other than those ‘veteran’ yachts with a history of repeat clients, on a boat by boat basis the average number of weeks has fallen off dramatically.”
Saxon substantiated this, commenting that a few years ago, better charter yachts would average 6-8 weeks of charter during their Caribbean stay, but this has dropped to 3-4 weeks. In addition, there has been no corresponding marketing effort to support the expanding charter fleet, and herein lies the problem.
He points out that “while the yachting support infrastructure is not present on the island, the United States is within close proximity - 90 miles at the nearest points,” and it is only a matter of time before things start to develop as the influx of yachts increases.
“I can foresee fully loaded yachts, fueled and provisioned, disembarking the U.S. destined for Cuban waters,” Saxon predicts. “With so much emphasis on chartering as part of the buying decision in our market presently, I predict a migration of big yachts from the lower Caribbean to Cuba - the owners will reposition their yachts if it represents a potential increase in business,” he says.
With hundreds of potential mooring spots, beautiful waters, a friendly population and as Saxon says “virtually no crime,” Cuba represents a strong rival to the usual Caribbean locations. Business opportunities will also present themselves to those UHNWI’s who venture out to Cuba and realise the lack of infrastructure available to superyachts.
He concludes that, “perhaps we are looking at the more adventurous charter types initially, but undoubtedly Cuba represents an intriguing destination possibility.” Adding that, “It won't happen tomorrow, but we see a lot of energy focused on resuming relations between Cuba and the United States with nearly daily progress being accomplished by the respective governments to see that it does happen.”
Saxon explained that President Obama “wants normalisation of ties with Cuba to be part of his legacy,” so perhaps these changes will happen faster than we think, but there are factors to bear in mind with this.
Cuba has much to protect as it slowly unearths its potential for superyacht visitors from the US. Jardines de la Reina, 50 miles off of the South coast of the island, is 830 square miles of protected reef. It has become the benchmark to which similar environments around the world should aspire. Others would do well to maintain these gardens of Eden, as they form the basis of our superyacht playground.
Interestingly, the country holds only two vessels for research purposes, the 30-foot Itajara and one other belonging to Havana University. Perhaps there is potential for superyacht owners to use their technologically advanced custom yachts, to further the research and developments of those looking to conserve our oceans?