Jaume Vaquer, president of the Asociación de Empresas Náuticas de Baleares, the Balearic Association of Nautical Businesses (AENIB) | Majorca Daily Bulletin reporter
The Balearic nautical industry is, like most sectors, looking forward to a very busy year, but it would appear there is growing frustration and concern within the sector about the long-term future.
Jaume Vaquer, president of the Asociación de Empresas Náuticas de Baleares, the Balearic Association of Nautical Businesses (AENIB), told the Bulletin this week that the Balearics, in particular Mallorca, is facing some tough challenges which could weaken its competitiveness as one of the most popular nautical destinations in the Mediterranean, not to mention the world, unless the current administrations, and the one which is in government after the local elections in May, pay the nautical industry more attention and show it the respect it deserves as a major economic power house and job creator.
Vaquer has been working in the nautical sector for more than 40 years and is part of the third generation of a family dedicated to the business.
Founder in 1991 of the company Jaume Vermell Náutica, he has dedicated his professional life to the sale, rental, repair and maintenance of recreational vessels. He has been a member of AENIB since 1998 and has been president of the association for the past six years.
The industry, like many others, has emerged from the pandemic while having to overcome fresh hurdles and challenges which have been thrown up by the war in Ukraine and the global economic crisis and complications imposed as a result of Brexit.
Given all these, he stressed the need to give a decisive boost to nautical training in the region, for achieving a collective agreement for the sector and the task of strengthening the association’s communication, both among its members and to the public, in order to highlight the extremely important role that the nautical sector plays in the economy and society of the Balearics.
AENIB is made up of more than a hundred companies in the sector in the Balearics that bring together very diverse activities, such as shipyards, boat sales, charter, nautical training or repair and maintenance.
Founded in 1982, it is the oldest and leading business association in the Balearic marine industry and, in turn, is integrated into the ANEN (National Association of Marine Industries), which represents almost the entire industrial and business fabric of recreational boating in Spain and has just celebrated its annual convention in San Sebastian.
“On the face of things, there is a sense of optimism in the sector for this year, but the Balearics has to be extremely careful about the message it sends out. And one of the big worries right now is talk of a new wealth tax which will be applied to yachts.
“This is causing a certain amount of concern and worry with regard to the future. One has to remember that yachts are not static, they can be sailed and moved anywhere and any new measures taken which will damage and weaken the competitiveness of the Balearic nautical industry will simply see yachts being moved elsewhere to destinations such as the south of France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Croatia or even Albania, where the local administrations are only too happy to see new and more yachts arriving and are doing all they can to accommodate the needs of the nautical industry, make it feel welcome and work with it in a positive way with a long-term vision. In many of these destinations labour costs are cheaper, as are service and mooring rates, so we cannot afford to let standards slip.
“When the local administrations talk about the tourist industry, the nautical sector has to be included because it is a large part of the chain, generates a lot of income and creates hundreds of full-time jobs. Plus, it is not a seasonal industry.
“Yes, during the summer the nautical industry is obviously more visible with boats out sailing and the marinas full, but the bulk of the work is carried out during the winter in the shipyards.
“The Balearics, in particular Mallorca and Palma, have a global reputation for being one of the best refit and repair destinations, but we are locked in a constant battle to be granted more space in the shipyards to meet demand and to be able to handle yachts which are getting larger by the year and therefore require larger teams of highly specialised and well-paid engineers and technicians. But we’re not getting the support and cooperation we need.
“There will be plenty of talk and praise for the industry from the politicians at the forthcoming boat show, as usual, but it’s all talk; it never translates into action. On the contrary, we are now faced with wealth taxes which will make our life even harder.
“The nautical industry is not a cash cow. Some 60 percent of the revenue for the port authorities is from recreational yachting but hardly any of it is reinvested in the industry. Be it improving facilities and services in the marinas, building more moorings, training local residents so they can work in the industry, no, the profits we generate go towards social housing or building a tram. We get to see very little reward for all our hard work,” he said.
“And the bureaucracy and paperwork involved is endless and unnecessary. Every nautical company needs its own in-house lawyer. Instead of having one single nautical ministry we have to deal with multiple offices and ministries, which takes up a great deal of time and costs money. Nothing is being done to make the industry’s life any easier.
“It’s all very well taxing the rich to cover the region’s deficit but if the millionaires did not come each year with their yachts, my company, for example, and many others, would neither be able to exist and generate important revenue for the local economy nor employ the thousands of people working in the industry.
“The vast majority of employees stick with their companies, they don’t move from one to another on a seasonal basis. We’re talking about extremely professional people for whom this is a long-term career, it’s not like working in the hospitality sector on short-term contracts. These people live and work here - many with their families who go to local schools and invest in the local economy throughout the year.
“The Balearics can’t afford to cherry pick who comes here and on what yacht because they will simply take their money and create more jobs somewhere else in the long term.
“People have long memories and all it takes is for a yacht owner to have one bad experience in the Balearics and it will stay with them for years,” Vaquer warned.
And he said that market forces are having an impact on the industry.
“The number of small, under 10 metre vessels being sold has decreased because of inflation. Prices and running costs have risen so that the market has dropped off by around 50 percent over the past year, but the larger yacht market is growing. But what is probably more important is that the charter sector is performing extremely well, again because of the economic climate. Why own a yacht when you can charter one and the lack of moorings doesn’t help either? And what we are seeing is a growth in the ‘boating club’ sector. This is a relatively new scheme which is rather like time-sharing.
"People join a club, pay a fee corresponding to the kind of yacht on offer and how often and when they would like to use it. Again, it removes the problems with finding a mooring and paying for it, plus many fees include insurance and maintenance, so members play a flat annual fee and have access to their own boat whenever it suits their plans. These clubs are becoming increasingly popular in the Balearics, which is encouraging because it demonstrates that the Balearic nautical industry is more than capable of overcoming challenges, moving with the times, meeting demand and, more importantly, enabling people from all over the world to enjoy sailing round the islands.
“The sailing clubs are very popular with second home owners, for example, who come and go, and local residents who perhaps neither have the money nor the time to own and maintain a yacht full time, so it’s another option the nautical industry offers.
“But looking ahead to the future, we need the local administrations on board. The nautical industry is investing a great deal of time and money in becoming more sustainable while reducing emissions. There is a huge move towards becoming more eco-friendly, not that it has ever not been. The shipyards, for example, are using more and more recyclable materials which can be used time and time again to reduce waste. New yacht covering projects have been developed as part of the move away from using plastic and more organic paints and other protective materials are being developed and used.
“But we’re getting little help from the authorities in this field either. The marinas and ports lack sufficient facilities to handle batteries and other non biodegradable materials, for example. There are few recycling points for the nautical industry, no waste water treatment facilities, which makes us wonder where all the revenue we generate for the local administrations goes.
“Little, if any consideration is given to our needs. Take the redevelopment of the Paseo Maritimo in Palma. There are some 5,000 yachts moored along the front served by around 100 nautical companies, but neither the owners nor the businesses can properly access the yachts because of all the road work. There’s hardly any parking left near the yachts, so how are the businesses and owners going to gain easy, comfortable access to the yachts this summer? It’s that bad experience I mentioned and sometimes all it takes is one to turn people away to other destinations,” he stressed.
“Just like the wealth tax, these ideas are thought up overnight and, before we know it, are introduced. The process of projects and policy being put up for public debate and members of any potentially affected sector being consulted or involved in discussions has been lost and it is very frustrating and unfair.
“However, the association will continue defending the collective business interests of our members, contributing to the growth and stability of the Balearic nautical sector and serving as an efficient and decisive bridge between the public administrations and the business sector,” Vaquer stressed.
“Unfortunately, while I can’t envisage the wealth tax being introduced before the local elections, it’s very much on the table and I fear it is inevitable, and we are also braced for a new emissions tax for the nautical industry,” he added.
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As someone who has been living full-time onboard their yacht exploring the Mediterranean for the last four years, I couldn't agree more with Juame - he is spot on. This is the first time we spent winter in the Balearics and it was a mixed experience. Boat owners are always reading and contributing to forums about where to spend winter, where to get maintenance work done, where to haul your boat out of the water, etc... This advice, based on real experience from other sailors, is invaluable in helping one make a decision. Too often as boat owners we feel we are being charged a premium for the privilege of the service; take for example the cost of diesel at a marina, it's easily 25 to 30 cents per litre more expensive than the same stuff 200m up the road. In all honesty, we will probably look to spend next winter in Greece or the south of Sicily.