Walks along the quays of Port Vauban this summer have been a relatively quiet: far from being a bustling marina with yachts of all sizes vying for a berth, many moorings stand empty. It is a similar scene in many of the other ports in south of France. Saint Tropez is reporting a 30% loss of stopover revenue, those around Toulon claim to be down 40% while in the Alpes-Maritimes, there are concerns that onshore spending by yacht owners and crew could have dropped by as much as 50%.
For the president of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, Renaud Muselier, Nice Côte d’Azur president Christian Estrosi and Hubert Falco, president of the Toulon Provence Méditerranée metropolis, the ‘gravity of the situation’ has led them to write an open letter to French president Emmanuel Macron, in which they implore the new leader to intervene and take action to protect an industry that brings in 900 million euros a year for the region.
They lay the blame for the current crisis firmly on ‘fiscal disparities’ related to fuel taxation and the recently passed law that demands yacht owners to pay social charges for crew residing in France. In the run-up to the implementation of the latter, criticisms came from all areas of the yachting industry as did predictions that yachts would simply leave the French Riviera and sail for more ‘advantageous and flexible’ shores such as Italy and Spain, where no such requirement is in place. A quick glimpse at maritime tracking systems reveals these fears to have been well-founded.
“The annual social charges cost for a crew of seven now stands at 300,000€,” write the trio. “In the port of Antibes, where crew head before the start of the season, there are almost no employment opportunities for sailors resident in France. In fact, non-French residency has become the first criterion in hiring [crew].”
Differences in fuel prices and taxes between France and its Mediterranean neighbours are also blasted in the letter, which highlights how a yacht of 42m would save almost 21,000€ a week by fuelling up in Italy rather than on the Côte d’Azur. The politicians say it is of no coincidence that the four largest fuel distributors in the region are reporting volumetric losses of 50% for the 2017 summer season.
“The urgent harmonisation of fiscal and social regulations at a European level has become imperative if we are to avoid the continued abandoning of our coast by yachts, their owners and their crew as well as the decline of an industry that has been one of the jewels of our economy,” continues the official letter, which is dated 1st August. “Without the immediate action of the French government, this industry will disappear in the coming years. Its leaders, its employees, the population of the region and its elected representatives count on your commitment [to this cause].”