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Will COVID-19 impact superyacht attendance for the America’s Cup?

In the wake of the pandemic, some yachts have reportedly cancelled plans to visit New Zealand for the 2021 event…

The America’s Cup recently announced that staff and family members from the USA Challenger team American Magic and INEOS Team UK have been granted dispensation to enter New Zealand, which has closed its borders to most international travellers in response the COVID-19 pandemic. The news is positive for the commencement of preparations for the 36th America’s Cup, set to take place from 6 to 21 March, 2021 in Auckland.

With the America’s Cup expecting to attract a large number of superyachts to New Zealand in the lead up to and during the event, however, there have been concerns surrounding New Zealand’s border restrictions with regards to international vessels. “The government has not yet approved any visitors to New Zealand from anywhere, including on yachts,” explains Peter Busfield, executive director of NZ Marine. “But we are hopeful that, with the America’s Cup being an approved event, visitor exemptions around the event may be advised later this year.”

According to Busfield, the New Zealand government has recently announced that superyachts and cruising yachts booked in for repair or refit work in the country are eligible for an exemption to enter New Zealand, with more details to follow soon. This allowance comes at a crucial time, ahead of the months of July to November, a period in which the majority of visiting vessels requiring refit or repair schedule their arrival to New Zealand.

The COVID-19 pandemic has already caused major disruption to the itineraries of superyachts around the world and, with over 100 superyachts originally expected to head to New Zealand for the event, it is inevitable that this number will be impacted to some extent. Of the yachts Auckland-based 37South has been working with, around 20 per cent have cancelled plans to visit New Zealand during the America’s Cup, while around 80 per cent still remain committed.

“There is no doubt that superyacht attendance will be impacted due to COVID-19, however, as countries such as Tahiti and Fiji make steps to open their borders to superyacht guests, we remain confident that New Zealand will be in a position to do the same by Q4 2020.”

“With New Zealand allowing visiting superyachts and foreign crew in on a case-by-case basis, the uncertainty is around how the charter guests and/or owners of these yachts will be able to join vessels in New Zealand,” explains Ben Osborne, director of 37South. “There is no doubt that superyacht attendance will be impacted due to COVID-19, however, as countries such as Tahiti and Fiji make steps to open their borders to superyacht guests, we remain confident that New Zealand will be in a position to do the same by Q4 2020. This positivity is reflected by the captains and owners we work with whom continue to make plans for their arrival into New Zealand later this year.”

Duthie Lidgard, managing director of Superyacht Support, confirms that only around 10-12 superyachts out of the 110 expected before COVID-19 have officially confirmed they will no longer be attending the America’s Cup. However, he has also seen new yachts planning on attending that were not on the list previously. “I understand there may be another handful more that could cancel in the next month due to global restrictions, but we are constantly seeing new vessels come forward asking for updated AC36 information and how to apply to enter our borders,” adds Lidgard. “It’s exciting times all round.” 

While the event is still eight months away, and the future of COVID-19 still uncertain, it is perhaps too early to assess the extent at which the pandemic will impact superyacht attendance. For those yachts that are still planning on attending, a full calendar of events awaits from December 2020 to April 2021. The action starts with a race to Kawau Island on New Year’s Eve 2020, followed by the Kawau New Year’s Day Regatta, both of which are expected to attract the attention of visiting superyachts. A diverse and entertaining calendar will then begin, which includes superyacht regattas in both the Bay of Islands and Auckland, as well as a superyacht fishing competition to ensure motoryachts are involved in the action.

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Will COVID-19 impact superyacht attendance for the America’s Cup?

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