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Super Yachts Are Good For Fiji

In 1999, a beautiful Super yacht called Aile Blanch (White Wing in French) sailed into Fijian waters and moored at the marina at Vuda. She was built in 1939 out
16 Jul 2016 07:45
Super Yachts Are Good For Fiji
A Super Yacht in the Lau Group.

In 1999, a beautiful Super yacht called Aile Blanch (White Wing in French) sailed into Fijian waters and moored at the marina at Vuda.

She was built in 1939 out of teak and had classis lines. At 30 metres in length, she was one 0f the larger yachts to come to Fiji and was skippered by an Englishman, David Jamison, who had many years of experience in the super yacht industry.

The owner had always sailed in the Mediterranean but had decided he would like to make one long voyage and thought Fiji sounded interesting (in spite of the fact that there was very little super yacht activity there.

Once they got here, David set about getting permission to visit the Lau Group, which was basically closed to yachts.

Through various means, he was able to get an appointment with Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who gave him a hand written permit on his personal letterhead to visit the beautiful islands.

And beautiful it was, basically untouched and certainly not well charted. They spent several weeks there and David fell in love with the area, an infatuation which lasts to this day.

He took the yacht back to its home sea and continued to serve as the Captain, but he never forgot the amazing cruising in Lau.

While the vessel was in Vuda, David made friends with the owner of the repair business based there and in 2002 he got a call to say that the business was for sale.

 

Business startup

He came to Fiji, bought the business, called Yacht Help. And he has been here ever since. At that time Fiji was lucky if there were 15 super yachts a year.

David knew that Tahiti was getting over 50 a year and tried to understand why they didn’t just keep going to Fiji.

Eventually the answer was pretty simple, they knew almost nothing about Fiji but there was a lot of information in the market for Tahiti, and the super yacht skippers were not too keen to explore the unknown in a $50 million vessel.

 

Developing a plan

So David developed a plan and created some marketing tools.

In 2004, he booked space at the Monaco Yacht Show, where he told everyone who would listen about what a great place Fiji was to cruise and how everything they needed was available there.

From that point, the visiting yacht numbers began to grow. David has been to the Monaco Show, which is the very centre of super yacht activity, every year since and the numbers continue to grow.

 

Market gets moving

Yacht Help had moved the headquarters to Denarau in 2003, although the ship repair and refurbishing business had remained at Vuda Marina.

Then, two important things happened that really got the market moving. The main channel into Port Denarau was shallow and access was denied to the larger vessels.

But in 2004, the channel was dredged to a depth of five metres and suddenly Port Denarau was a super yacht port.

Then the government put out the Super Yacht Decree and the Charter Yacht Rules and everyone in the super yacht industry suddenly took notice.

The Decree made it a lot easier for super yachts to enter Fijian ports and assisted with all the aspects of the operation such as crew rotation, client entry, operating taxes and cruising ground access.

The Rules also set very clear guidelines to assist the super yacht operations and cut a lot of the red tape that head previously existed.

David made sure that the benefits just released by the government were communicated widely and Fiji was on the map. Now there are about 55 supper yachts in 2016 and the growth will continue.

 

Meeting the needs

Yacht Help is not only for super yachts, almost every visiting cruising yacht needs supplies and generally some form of repairs.

So there is a very large market, with somewhere around 750 yachts visiting Fiji last year, and the numbers growing steadily.

David believes this number will exceed a thousand annually once the Lau Clearance Post is operational.

Yacht help has a staff of over forty people including head office and the repair and maintenance facility in Vuda.

Mostly the company trains their own staff from locals but some specialist positions are filled with trained and experienced people including several expats.

 

Benefits to Fiji

The yacht tourism market brings many benefits to Fiji, over and above the direct income generated from the industry.

Yacht Help hires inexperienced school leavers to do the cleaning and polishing work on the yachts and many of these people, both male and female, are offered work on the yachts full time, opening up huge opportunities for travel and professional advancement.

Super Yacht crew are very well paid and while living on the vessel they do not have to pay for anything.

At least one Fijian has advanced to where he now has command of a super yacht and a number of others have staff positions.

In the super yacht industry, Fijians are now sought after for crew work. This is one outcome that David is very pleased about as it provides a great career path and high income for our people.

The yachts spend money in the outer islands while cruising, spreading the tourism income around.

The super yacht owners are extremely wealthy and during the aftermath of Winston they made a number of large donations to assist recovery.

 

Super yachts

A super yacht is a very large pleasure craft purpose built for cruising in exotic locations. They vessels start at twenty-four metres in length and go up to well over a hundred metres.

It is a rule of thumb that a super yacht costs around a US$1 million a metre to build so only the very rich can afford to own one.

The vessels are fully crewed with the larger vessels carrying over 12 crew, plus there will always be some specialist crew on board.

Many super yachts have their own helicopter on board, some have submarines and others diving gear and other toys.

A number of yachts are members of an organisation called “Sea Mercy” which provides sea support in emergencies and natural disasters.

After Winston a number of super yachts assisted in delivering supplies to remote locations in Fiji and are credited with saving many lives.

In the world there are over five thousand super yachts so there is plenty of opportunity for the market in Fiji to grow.

From a very small business in 1992, when David Jamison first visited Fiji, the yachting industry has become a major contributor to the Fijian economy.

Tthanks to a small group of businesses that are focussed on one of the most interesting businesses in the world.

John Ross is a Nadi-based marketing and advertising specialist with a long background in tourism. For feedback on this article, please email him: johnrossfiji@gmail.com

 

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