Marina Operators of The Bahamas (MOB) met on Feb 5 at the Schooner Bay development in South Abaco. On the agenda for the meeting was a financial overview of the organization, a discussion of new marketing tactics and presentations by ancillary partners such as the Police who reported on stolen vessels throughout the country. The day was capped by a round table discussion with the Minister for Financial Services: the Hon. Ryan Pinder. MOB made the case to Mr. Pinder that the government loses millions of dollars in revenue a year from faulty recording a collection practices in the marina and yachting industries.
MOB is an organization of 46 marinas and marine-oriented businesses stretching from Grand Bahama to Long Island. According to MOB President Joseph Dargavage, they are the leading voice for the economically critical, yet underdeveloped, marina industry in the country.
Mr. Dargavage pointed to collaborative marketing, such as displays at the Miami Boat Show, and being able to confidently refer yachters to fellow MOB members as benefits of membership. Mr. Dargavage is the General Manager of Great Harbour Cay Marina in the Berry Islands.
“I believe the out islands are going to see tremendous growth,” said the president. Others in the group agreed with the statement based on their own observations within the industry and anecdotal evidence. The MOB members also agreed the Marina industry would be a necessary in any economic turnaround in the country. “We need to impress on the government the financial impact marinas have.”
Abaco has more marinas represented in MOB than any other island including New Providence and Grand Bahama combined.
A major point of concern of MOB is that the government has no system in place to measure the financial effects of yachters and marina guests. “Over 80%” of yachters and boaters leave The Bahamas without turning in a visitor’s card or reporting to any agency where they spent their nights and their money.
The Police department made a presentation to MOB members regarding stolen vessels.
In 2011 Abaco had 25 stolen vessels with 14 recovered. In 2012 The number of stolen vessels in Abaco dropped to 14 with all but three being recovered. The police speculated that the sharp decrease may be due to the capture and targeting of a core group of individuals who perpetrated the majority of the thefts.
There was a 54% stolen boat recovery rate nationwide in 2012. Abaco benefitted from a 78% recovery rate in 2012.
Min. Pinder arrived later in the afternoon to meet with MOB members. He was struck immediately by the fact that many marinas and charter brokers within the country struggle to pay the Treasury the 4% commission from charters.
We have the money, the group said, but the difficulty lies in getting the Port Authority to collect. Members recounted a common problem of the person in charge of collection being consistently unavailable. “They are either out to lunch or on vacation,” recounted one member who recalling multiple times he, unsuccessfully, tried to pay the government.
The problem is further complicated by the fact that many foreign charter brokers, operating outside The Bahamas, charge yachters the commission but the money never makes it back into the country. This is another issue arising from the lack of attention to the marina and yachting industry in The Bahamas, the group said.
One broker told the minister that on one specific charter alone at his resort resulted in an $85,000 commission which he owed then to the government. Again, however, he claimed it was “difficult to get the port to collect.”
The Minister discussed options with the group, including moving to electronic payment and other forms of taxation that were easier to monitor, such as a yacht registry.
The roundtable discussion ended with ideas to leverage Bahamian employment within the growing yacht charter industry. Programs such as the Bahamas Maritime Cadets Corp. and SUNY & Campbell Shipping’s Apprenticeship Programs were identified launching points for any such endeavor.