Taxed at anchor
If you've been keeping an eye on the approach of the America's Cup and the marine industry in New Zealand, it's likely you've heard recent murmurs of a proposal which will see superyachts taxed to anchor in our waters.
Auckland Council is about to vote on a ten year proposal that will include charging foreign flagged vessels of over 40 metres in length a fee of $23 (inc GST) per metre, per day to anchor in the region's waters, and we in the industry are deeply concerned. First, let's give this some context. A 65-metre yacht under this tax would pay $10,465.00 for a week of anchoring - using nothing but its own equipment and finding its own empty anchorages - while cruising the Hauraki Gulf. If that same yacht berthed in Silo Marina for the week - a fully developed, gated central city facility, designed specifically for superyachts and booked months in advance - it would pay just $3,640.00.
To give Auckland Council its due this will seem, to the councillors who'll vote on this, like a logical way to collect revenue in the face of the superyacht influx we're expecting to see around the 36th America's Cup.
But we're already going to be benefitting from these yachts in spades. We work to a formula that tells us each superyacht visiting New Zealand will inject approximately $4million into the economy. We know this as we've been carefully monitoring the superyachts visiting New Zealand; the numbers of which were slowly and steadily increasing in response to an industry-wide campaign run for years before we won the America's Cup. That's berthage fees, crew spend, provisioning, guest tourism - the list goes on. We don't need to insult superyachts by appearing to attempt to milk them for as much as we can get - they're already freely spending money here.
That means they're benefitting the boat builders, the hoteliers, the sail makers, the haul out yards, the florists, the waitstaff, the chopper pilots, the winemakers, the uber drivers, the wood turners, the produce growers, the butchers, and an almost endless list of others, including people like me.
Taxes provide short term benefit for council while superyachts are in town, while also being an effective reason for captains and owners not to return, and to share that opinion within the small superyacht world.
Instead of slapping superyacht owners with too-easy taxes, let's put that energy into giving our local businesses every facility they need to thrive while superyachts are here en masse and create true, lasting economic benefit for New Zealanders through encouraging superyachts to undertake lucrative work here.
Instead of singling out the 'rich', let's recognise we have some of the most technologically-exciting businesses and creative thinkers in the world amongst our ranks and use this time to get them in front of the world's most successful business people.
Here's the thing - a tax like this has been done before; in Sardinia. Like us, Sardinia's a small but spectacular destination with limited superyacht infrastructure.
Unlike us, it was on the beaten track for superyachts. And even then, this sort of tax all but scuppered its industry.
We're not on the beaten track.
Quite the opposite. We are about as far from the superyacht milk run as we can get, which has meant that for those of us who have dedicated our working lives to drawing superyachts to this part of the world it's been a long, hard but successful cajole.
Admittedly made doable by one hell of a country at the end of the cruise which rewards adventurous yachts.
So, if in the unfortunate circumstance we don't retain the Cup, how are we going to start the slow process to rebuild our reputation as a destination once more if we've whacked on one more disincentive to come here?
And if we've burnt our bridges with superyachts by letting them know that far from Kiwi hospitality, the only thing they'll receive from us is an invoice at every turn?
Yes, we will still attract yachts during the America's Cup - tax or no tax. But we need to protect and nurture our existing superyacht industry to see it move strongly out the other side of the America's Cup. There are too many of us here relying on it not to.