ST. THOMAS — Nearly 60 multihulls, monohulls and motor yachts lined the docks at IGY’s Yacht Haven Grande on St. Thomas for the USVI Charter Yacht Show hosted by the Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association during the weekend.
In response to COVID-19 safety requirements, the annual show was held mostly online, with limited in-person attendance. More than 100 charter brokers from the Caribbean, the U.S. and Europe attended the show’s new virtual platform, which included live seminars, crew interviews and real-time yacht tours, while nearly 50 charter brokers attended in person, a number that was intentionally limited.
“Attending the show in person was extremely important for me this year,” says Laura Sharp, charter broker with Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-headquartered Denison Yachting. “It’s one of the few opportunities I’ll have in a year to visit with multiple crews and multiple yachts in a few days. It especially gives me a chance to hear the latest news from the various islands. With COVID this year, it especially reassured me that everyone in the yacht charter world is taking the necessary precautions to deliver a safe, clean, yet fun vacation in these weird times.”
The virtual element of the show proved beneficial for Emily Mack, charter expert at Dade City, Fla.-based Virgin Island Sailing and president of the Charter Yacht Brokers Association. High-risk family members put her in the virtual category this year.
“The yacht walkthroughs are a helpful piece. That said and looking at the season ahead, a yacht charter is uniquely positioned in its ‘solitary’ nature to be one of the best types of vacations to take — particularly in comparison to a land-based resort or cruise ship,” she said. “We’ve already seen an uptick in interest as compared to this spring and I project this will only get stronger as the world learns how to better combat COVID.”
Since the majority of the USVI’s charter yachts accommodate no more than six to eight passengers, usually family or friends, have only two to three crew members and feature an itinerary that boasts ample time at sea and in secluded anchorages, this segment of the territory’s marine tourism sector provides safe vacation options for visitors in times of the COVID-19 pandemic, and U.S. Virgin Islands-only itineraries are growing in popularity, according to the V.I. Professional Charter Association.
“With the difficult protocols in place for some areas, we have many clients who are moving to other parts of the Caribbean… specifically the U.S. Virgin Islands,” said Nancy Van Winter, owner of Frederick, Md.- based Envy Yacht Charters/International Yacht Charter Group. “This was not an area that was featured on many charters in the past, but the crews are exploring the region, developing incredible itineraries and are invigorated about giving charter guests a fantastic week.”
“The end of this successful 2020 Charter Yacht Show marks the beginning of a new phase for the USVI Marine Industry,” said Dare Blankenhorn, VIPCA president and owner of St. Thomas-based Charter Caribe. “We recognize the challenges that still sit in front of us, but we are confident in the agility of our business community and the greatness of our natural assets. Keep your eyes out for big things coming to the marine industry here in the USVI, as we navigate the waters of the modern world.”