Antigua and Barbuda: Interview with Ivor Jackson & Bobby Reis

Ivor Jackson & Bobby Reis

Chairman & GM (Falmouth Harbour Marina)

Ivor Jackson & Bobby Reis

The Caribbean is a highly attractive destination for foreign direct investment, but with intense competition among countries in the region to secure increased foreign contribution. What, in your opinion, are Antigua & Barbuda’s most significant advantages compared to other countries in the region?

Ivor Jackson, Chairman: The first advantage is the skilled workforce Since 1950 we have had a multinational population from different ethnic groups, that has brought many different skills to different industries. Antigua is known for its diversity. Also, the geographic nature of the country. We just need to capitalize on those. Compared to other islands in the region, and in regard to the yacht events, Antigua has become also the capital of the region. We have the boat show, and many others. We have capitalized on the opportunity that exists for cruising and regattas.

Bobby Reis, GM: we feel that we are probably the safest of all locations in the Caribbean and that is important. In the country and inside this Marina we have cameras and two guards on duty. This Marina takes the whole question of safety very seriously.

Tourism is the main driver of Antigua & Barbuda’s economy, accounting for 60% of GDP, more than half the jobs and 40% of investment, yet it still has a lot of potential. In what ways do you see it growing in the future?

Ivor Jackson, Chairman: The government is building the capacity for further development in the tourism industry, so this sector is promising.
Also, the yachting sector here is having a bigger impact than the cruise sector.
From a policy point of view, I think there is room for strategic collaboration between the private and public sector.

Marketing is also very important to promote Antigua as a Yachting destination.

To move ahead we have to understand the nature of the development. In small islands, it could be a problem to find the labor force so you have to bring a number of immigrants, but that would trigger the amount of education and health, as they are not always skilled force, and you would have to move forward in order to expand the economy in all areas.

Falmouth Harbour Marina was built by local shareholders who wanted to provide an economic boost to the area in the mid-to-late 1990s. What were the biggest challenges you had to face in those days? And what has been the impact of Falmouth Harbour to the local area and the Antiguan economy in general?

Ivor Jackson, Chairman: Because we are from Antigua, people thought that we would not get it done, and it took us a while. We had to do restructuring and get approval for the development of the Marina and it took a while. But we believed that we could do it, so we did it.

Then we had good success, we are cautious in the way we invest. We do have a masterplan that we are looking at. We are proud of what we have done.

We have an expatriate population here and they have done significant work in helping to get us where we are.

So, we are currently carrying out some developments in the Marina, and we want to make sure that the businesses there will serve our main clients, so we leave it up to the people that are proposing businesses or the rent spaces to have the discussion about which way they would like to go, but we will make the right decision when the right time comes.

We are looking for both international investors and local investors, and different service suppliers.

There are a number of marinas around the island like Jolly Harbour Marina, Nelson’s Dockyard Marina, Antigua Yacht Club Marina, among others. What makes Falmouth Harbour special? What are your main advantages?

Ivor Jackson, Chairman: At the beginning, I did not realize that there was such a demand for large boats, and one of the adviser told us that the best thing was to go for wider boats, and there is not another marina in the country or in the region where you can drive on safely to the dock., and it is easy to access the docks. Our staff are good and very friendly, and that is one of our major advantages. We aim at all times to provide a satisfactory service to people so we look forward to people coming back from year to year.

Bobby Reis, GM: Some of these docks are wide concrete docks very solid, and it facilitates as we are a mega yacht marina, and the VIP’s can come right out, the people do not have the inconvenient of coming to the gate and having to walk or having to be taken down. It also facilitates deliveries getting down to the boat.

We have designed this marina in a way that you can deliver fuel anywhere on this dock. We have fuel alliance and fuel outlets. So that is an advantage comparing to other marinas that just have a fuel dock.

Because this marina is owned by indigenous Antiguans who had a dream, we run a marina and we do also berthing. The community around us must also feed themselves from what we do, so originally what we tried to do is to empower the community around us, so that they benefit. Since we opened we have maintained that, and we do not get involved, even if we have been proposed to open coffee shops and restaurants, but you look around you and there are two restaurants across the road, and on the corner another one, and all those developments has developed because the Marina, because we do not try to compete with them, and now we have decided to build a facilitation for them, so that it looks better and gives the opportunity to the locals to expand. And all our shareholders are very active to get the locals to get involved.

Falmouth Harbour is the home of many great events throughout the year, including Antigua Sailing Week, the Antigua Charter Yacht Show, the Classic Yacht Regatta and many others. What is Falmouth Harbour’s role in these events and how do you work with other partners to ensure the success of all these different events?

Ivor Jackson, Chairman: We want to maintain Antigua’s reputation as a yachting destination and I also own the Catamaran hotel and we advise the National Park Authority. We collaborate with the events planners and organizers. We have meetings with the other marina and we stay involved with everyone.

There is increasingly strong competition across the Caribbean for yachting and marine services and in recent years Antigua lost some important business to neighbouring islands. What do you believe Antigua still needs to do to ensure that the yachting and marine industry continues to grow and strive for the future?

Ivor Jackson, Chairman: The region is developing the yachting infrastructure, because there are not enough services in key countries, and in order to improve and grow the industry the region needs to collaborate on certain things. It needs to agree that we need to expand boating capacity across the region, we also need to agree in terms of marketing and we need to agree in regards to procedures for immigration and customs, which has to be common as much as possible among the region, and agree to collaborate in providing training for people who want to make a career in the sector. If we work together in developing the region, and promoting the region I think we will be able to make Antigua an economic powerhouse within the region.

Bobby Reis, GM: We share a business and that is why Caribbean yachting has not got a lot of exposure because of the English-speaking Caribbean, the CARICOM, we are the only country really involved in this type of business. Our competitors are not Barbados, St Lucia, Dominica or Grenada, because the boats are not going that far, so in terms of the very big yachts, our competition is really St Maartin and the BVI. I think what needs to happen is to find a way for those three entities; Antigua, The BVI and St Maartin come together to begin to promote yachting. We alone can’t do it, but we need to promote the northern Caribbean as a place for yachting so that that message goes out. But we try to work together because we are all in this together. The problem is that we are sharing the 12 months of the year with the Mediterranean, so we in Antigua, St Maartin and Tortola have to find a way to attract business in the summer. The old argument used to be because the hurricanes, the boats will not come, but I do not accept that because with technology today we know ten days before if a hurricane is coming so you have enough time to get out. So, if you come to the Caribbean you come to these islands in the low season, so our rate is half what it is in the winter, so you can actually be doing business in the summer and also the airlines drop their prices and everything is half of what you are playing in the winter season. So, we should have the business from mid-June to November also. But we are having discussions with the government about how to promote yachting, because actually this business brings more money to the economy than the cruise ships, as 90 % of the money that we raise here goes back to St. Johns. We contribute very actively.

Readers of Harvard Business Review include some of the most influential business leaders and decision makers in the world. Do you have a final message as a conclusion to this interview?

Ivor Jackson, Chairman: We need to go back and look at the issues and find ways to solve them. We need to do that in the private sector and within the government.