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2021 May June Marina World

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MARINA MANAGEMENT & CONSULTANCY For the Kokuye project on the Caribbean coast of Panama, an excavated marina basin was planned that integrates a mangrove fringe into the design. Image: OBMI (Puntacana Foundation, Dominican Republic) “you can tell the story of how our programme with the local fishermen, their families and the resort works, but to get there, we failed in multiple previous attempts.” I remember a meeting with Clara Diago (Fundación Corplaya) that was briefly interrupted by a call from a local community representative complaining about no potable water being delivered to the town. The mangrove planting for the marina in the Exumas was led by Catherine Booker (Exuma Foundation), under the technical direction of ATM’s Greg Braun, resulting in the training of Bahamian youngsters in ecological restoration tools. It took years to get to that point but I was so happy when I got the photos of the planting! I have intentionally “named names” - even at the very high risk of leaving out names that should be listed - to thank some of the people who contributed through their collaboration to promoting innovative ideas that make projects unique; a process where I have benefited greatly, both personally and professionally. Story of a site visit I started saying that community involvement should be a goal of marina consultancy about a decade ago. To some extent, after many years of seeking opportunities to include the community as part of the marina development vision, I still do not have many examples to refer to. And then came the site visit I am going to talk about next. It was a large project in the Middle East, but the process was not necessarily extraordinary. A big team had to inspect multiple sites in a pristine lagoon with ninety islands over several days. The area only had a small government building and fishing camp, where some of the local fishermen had small tour operations for few local tourists. The development team hired several of the local boats with their skippers to take them and the consultants around. I was in one of the boats with a specific assignment to visit a few sites on different islands. Our boat captain was Mohammad, a leader of the local fishermen. During several trips over the week-long site work, he demonstrated that he knew every corner of lagoon, every sand shoal, every coral head, and routinely made small detours to show us dolphins and sea turtles. Even if we did not speak the same language, we had some interesting communication when it mattered. The day opened with a majestic dawn at the harbour; but after sunrise, the site visit started as expected. And then Mohammad waved at a boat far on the horizon. And our tour boat got side by side with a local fishing boat with fresh catch. Mohammad had a short conversation with the other fishermen, opened a cooler with ice, and loaded it with fish from the boat. After the short stop, we went on. Following one site inspection and shortly after departing to the next site, Mohammad turned towards a shoal next to a mangrove forest. I was not aware of all the itinerary details, but something was not as expected in the plan. We then realised that some other fishermen were working on those shoals, waist deep in the water and with their nets deployed. Once closer, the younger of the two fishermen showed us a net with their catch. His smile was bright even in contrast with a very sunny day. We were approaching what I thought was going to be our next site, when I heard that we were stopping for lunch. While we started discussing our notes on the site observations, another boat approached with a stove and cooking equipment. And another boat came with more fish still in their nets. The fishermen started cleaning the fish and preparing our lunch. And we ate the fresh fish, wrapping each bite in bread with our hands, in the communal traditional way, while sitting on the deck of our boat. Not only was this a masterfully choreographed sequence, but it also included a significant characteristic of a staged experience: surprise. If I evaluate all the criteria to design an experience “by the book”, this trip scores very high on everything that is fundamentally unique to the most expensive shore excursion in a highend destination. It took me some time, but I then realised that this was a unique proof of concept. To this day, to the best of my knowledge, this outstanding “tour” component of the site visit was arranged by Mohammad. This goes beyond my wildest expectations of what the phrase “the best human resources for delivering authentic and memorable guest experiences are in the local community.” The trip was part of the planning of The Red Sea Project in 2018. In the boat were Ian Williamson and Scott Henshaw of TRSDC, Bryan Algeo and Lance Walker of WATG and Alan Travers of Buro Happold. Captain Mohammad is now head of boat operations in the lagoon, but I still hope that he can lead the local tour operators when the project starts operation. That would be another reason for The Red Sea Project to be the most outstanding yachting project under development today. In any case, this was my most memorable experience in a professional assignment. Esteban Biondi is associate principal at Applied Technology & Management, Florida, USA. E: – May/June 2021 37

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