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The Rise of the Modern Marina - Sun Resorts Intl

The steady growth of recreational boating – an industry worth some $30 billion in the US alone – has arguably transformed parts of the Caribbean as much - per visitor - as the timeshare or cruise sectors.

One of the companies currently pushing forward the changing landscape locally is Texas group Sun Resorts International. Created in the mid-90s, Sun is now a $95-million business in charge of 12 marinas and some 3,000 boat slips. Within the region, the group has acquired St Thomas’s American Yacht Harbor (2001), St Maarten’s Simpson Bay Marina (2002), Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor (2004, with the BVI investment club) and

Tortola’s Village Cay Marina (2005).

Sun’s aim is to amass a 30-strong portfolio that includes marinas in the Caribbean, US Gulf Coast, East Coast and Mexico. In marine terms, this puts Sun firmly among the high-rollers.

According to American Yacht Harbor’s Chris Petty, “Many companies have attempted to accomplish what Sun is trying to do now. It seems as if the threshold for marina companies has been around 10 properties, and most have struggled to grow any larger.”

While Sun’s plan is for each development to retain its individual character, the overall push by various companies to homogenize the Caribbean marina is designed to target a new, more affluent cruiser. On the evidence, today’s Antillean yachtie wants the same consistency of service from his marina as he would expect from an international hotel chain. That means modern booking systems, rates that reward loyalty, and technical support of a consistently high standard. As Petty says, “Owners can see the Sun Resorts Logo and be assured that their vessel will be well taken care of and their experience at our marinas safe and pleasant.”

Another aspect of this modern marina growth is property development. ‘Real estate’ marinas, which include a sizeable condominium/ studio component, are much less risky as an investment than traditional family-run, boat-only marinas. An apartment block or two for the landlubbers keeps revenue ticking over during the hurricane season and increases the demand for on-site shops and services.

The emergence of the ‘branded’ marina may not cater to every cruiser’s taste, and won’t even register with those who prefer to drop the hook. But for those who like to back into a slip and plug in to shore power, or leave their boat for longer periods, it’s time to prepare for the expected.

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