LAUANS are expected to earn $2million annually under a proposal to increase yacht visits to the islands.
The proposal — which was presented to the Lau Provincial Council by the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association's marine operators subcommittee, under which marinas come under — said there was great potential for yachting tourism in the group.
For this to work, government has been asked to open a port of entry at Vanuabalavu.
Subcommittee co-ordinator John Philp said the Lau islands would gain popularity among yachting tourists as a result of the initiative.
"This will increase not only the projected revenue for the Lau Group but also the Fiji yachting industry as a whole by opening Lau as a new attraction and making Fiji a better yachting destination," he said.
"More yachts will visit Fiji and stay longer. It is a jewel in our crown which we have underutilised."
According to the 2012 Fiji Yachting Tourism Survey, yachties contributed $30,508,832 to Fiji's economy. Of the 662 yachts that visited, 40 were superyachts.
The Lau proposal stated that 56 per cent (370 yachts) of the 662 that visited last year arrived from ports upwind to the east from Tonga, Tahiti, Samoa, Cook Islands, the Marshall Islands and the United States.
"These yachts sailed past the Lau Group nonstop to ports of entry at Savusavu, Levuka or Suva," it said.
Once the yachts were cleared into Fiji, visiting Lau became unviable because they had to sail 100 to 130 nautical miles against prevailing east-south-east winds, posing risks to yachts.
"This is the single reason why only 20 per cent of Fiji-cleared yachts visit Lau each year," the proposal stated, adding that yachts in transit sailing from one country to another could make their first port of call at Vanuabalavu if it was made a port of entry.
"...then 56 per cent of 370 yachts, approximately 2000 yachting tourists, would perform their clearance into Fiji at this port and would have easy access to visit the rest of the Lau Group."
The proposal's main objectives are to:
* Increase the number of visiting foreign yachts in Lau;
* Benefit the people of Lau by providing legitimate revenue streams through yachting tourism;
* Preserve the marine environment by setting up marine protected areas (MPAs);
* Strengthen itaukei traditions by providing opportunities to display such traditions;
* Create a strict code of conduct for yachts visiting the islands; and
* Improve border security throughout the group by increased Customs presence and forming partnerships with the yachting industry, villages and other parties
With a yacht's stay estimated at an average of 45 days, the time required to cruise around north and southern Lau, and with a daily expenditure of $182 a yacht per day, revenue derived from cruising yachts and superyachts is estimated at around $2million.
Mr Philp said this would go directly into the villages of Lau.
Government will be required to staff the port of entry during the yachting season from April to October and the cost of this would be offset by fees paid by yachts for inward clearance formalities.
"This would be a cost-effective method of generating more revenue income directly into the Lau Group while preserving the natural environment of the islands. It would increase the size of Fiji's yachting industry and potentially improve border security at no cost to government."