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By Gemma Handy

The traditional start of the annual yachting season will suffer a setback due to the cancellation of a major event for the first time in its six-decade history.

The Antigua Charter Yacht Show usually heralds the first influx of vessels into the country each December delivering an economic shot in the arm after the low season months.

The arrival of some of the world’s largest, most luxurious superyachts – along with more than 2,000 crew members, captains and brokers – transforms English Harbour into a hive of activity which has an economic ripple effect on everyone from taxi drivers to restaurateurs.

Preparations for the annual show – which was due to begin on December 4 – had been underway for months.

And while organisers say they were confident the show could have gone on, fears of Covid contagion among potential attendees from overseas saw the 59th edition placed on ice.

Event chairman Paul Deeth said there had been anxiety that international brokers visiting the yachts could unwittingly transmit the virus.

“And that then ruins the yachts’ chances of doing a trip over the Christmas period with either charter guests or owners,” he told Observer.

“The biggest effect for Antigua is that the show has always started the yachting season. Boats get all their work done to be here by the end of November, early December. So it really helped us all – and that means everybody from day workers and taxi drivers, to restaurants and hotels,” he explained.

“Without the show, boats will come and go whenever they like and there will be no marked time when you know the marina is going to be full, hotels will be full and everyone will be busy.”

In addition to kickstarting the season, the show usually provides welcome dollars for local businesses in the run-up to Christmas.

“On top of everything else we are going through, it’s a great shame,” Deeth said.

Businessman Jeff Hadeed, managing partner of the South Point Hotel which fringes Falmouth Harbour, said the show usually fills every room of his boutique hotel.

 “We have pretty much had all those rooms cancelled,” he told Observer. “We have delayed the opening of the hotel’s restaurant too as we want to wait and see what the season is going to be like. The restaurant’s operating costs are too high to open it for our nominal amount of guests.”

Hadeed explained that the coronavirus’ impact on the usually lucrative sector might be further reaching still.

“We don’t yet know if crew will be able to leave their boats, so while there may be some boats spending a long time here because people are living on them, I think the spin-off is going to be a lot less because people won’t be able to move around as they usually would,” he added.

Meanwhile however, plans are progressing for next year’s Antigua Charter Yacht Show which will mark its 60th anniversary in December 2021.

“The industry has expressed its desire to have it and I’m pretty confident we will have a big show for 2021,” Deeth added.

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