Tahiti Ocean on meeting the demands of the fleet in Tahiti during the Covid-hit 2020 season…
French Polynesia saw an influx of large motoryachts in the 2020 season, and these vessels come with their own unique set of challenges. Despite the vast size of the Pacific, the majority of destinations remained inaccessible to the superyacht fleet. Tahiti saved a season for many, but not without its challenges.
I spoke with a varied group of industry leaders based in the South Pacific for the recently-published The Pacific Superyacht Report, and some common sentiments shone through; it was an incredibly difficult but rewarding season for the South Pacific, Tahiti was very popular…. and Etienne Boutin and his team at Tahiti Ocean were the busiest agents in the world at that time, servicing the fleet that arrived.
SuperyachtNews.com spoke with Boutin to find out how they did it, and what lessons can be learnt from their experience, as the Pacific continues to develop as a destination.
“We opened on 15 July, 2020 and remained extremely busy until we closed on February 9, 2021. We had around 50 superyachts over 30m pass through, with many that wanted to charter, and those that came, on average, stayed longer," explains Boutin. "Under the circumstances, we had a good season, but it was certainly more complicated because of COVID.”
Napoleon once said that an 'army marches on its stomach'. This is no less true of the superyacht fleet. With the increased restrictions on borders and the decreased total number of flights per week, Tahiti’s supply lines were tested, as Boutin points out; “The provisioning was tough but we made it work, fortunately, the cargo ships were not interrupted and we maintained flights to the United States for the majority. The problem was New Zealand, with no flights we could not get fresh produce from there.”
The arrival of a motoryacht presents challenges. As Boutin pointed out, for an island nation such as Tahiti, a single 100m-plus yacht brings a set of demands that can test the limits of local infrastructure. Let alone three; “We had three arrive in the same week at the start of the season! The clearance and COVID testing for the crew and guests under the new guidelines was tough.”
In addition to the logistical challenges presented, the presence of these large yachts had some unexpected consequences in the COVID season of 2020.
“We had superyachts, understandably, wanting to do all of their embarkations, supply and crew turnover with the helicopter and not by tender, to avoid shore contacts. However, with that many helicopter runs, we eventually had to move them to another anchorage because of the complaints about the noise!”
After a great season, the large yachts will be back, and the fleet continues to grow. I ask Boutin what steps could be taken to help progress Tahiti as a destination, and the interesting contradiction it highlights..
“I think we need to open a new marina for vessels over 50m, which doesn't yet exist in French Polynesia, and this season proved that," he comments. "The problem is that superyachts come to experience the isolated and beautiful islands, they don't necessarily want to see a small island developed extensively into a marina, but there is still the expectation of the service as if the facilities were there.”
The Pacific plan, as described by many industry stakeholders across the region, lays out a vision of continuity concerning service and support for visiting superyachts. As Boutin highlights, Tahiti is a vital part of this; “Superyachts are embarking on world tours and there is a level of service and support they expect. I think of the comparison to Silo Park in Auckland, they have alongside berthing for large yachts in the city centre. We need to offer something similar.
“The large yachts in 2020 were okay at anchor because they actively wanted to avoid shore contacts. But we should prepare for the return of these yachts after the pandemic.”
The success of this season in Tahiti, and the great experiences had by the vessels that visited, will undoubtedly lead to more interest and repeat visitation. The South Pacific must learn, listen and maintain its momentum.
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