What strategies are Caribbean-based charter yachts and charter yacht companies using to entice bookings during this global economic downturn?
The key to keeping repeat customers and attracting new ones, says Josephine Tucci, global product manager for Sunsail, based in Clearwater, FL, with six bases in the Caribbean, “is providing added value.”
Ed Hamilton, of Ed Hamilton & Company, a charter yacht brokerage based in Wiscasset, ME, which specializes in Caribbean charters, agrees. “We have tried hard to concentrate on selling value over price, because in the long run, cutting prices just hurts the industry. We have seen this happen in the bareboat industry, which sadly has lowered prices without adding value (no more cruising guides sent in advance or free taxi transfers, additional charge for fuel, etc). Whatever special offers or schemes crewed yachts use, we feel it is important that they maintain a list price, as it is much easier to return to this when things improve.”
Many crewed yachts are maintaining prices while offering more value. An example, says Hamilton, “is charging the same price but giving an eighth day free day. Or, offering flexibility with pricing options, such as half board. Or, discounting for younger children based on the fact that kids don’t expect quality wines or high-end service. They, of course, cost the crew in other ways (special menus, time spent entertaining, etc), but the image of quality for the adults is not compromised.”
Some yachts are adding value via offering unique services. For example, Captain Mark Saia, aboard the U.S. Virgin Islands-based crewed yacht, Freedom, a 60’ multihull, is a veteran Tai Chi Master. “These days, people want to ‘better’ themselves,” says Freedom’s chef, Alison Chesley. “So, offering easy and interesting exercise options from experienced instructors is a desirable option. Mark offers a 20 to 30 minute routine that packs a surprising workout.”
On Three Moons, a crewed 72’ Irwin also based out of the USVI, chef Shelly Tucker, says, “We have always offered our ‘Sea Spa’ services of manicures and pedicures. I’ve been a licensed technician since 1984 and a master tech since 1989. We do charge a fee for spa services on board the yacht; but it is less expensive for the client than having a spa treatment at a resort.”
Charter companies are adding value in distinctive ways too. Sunsail’s Tucci says, “We have recently surveyed our customers and there is definitely interest for themed or specialist activities. In fact we are launching several new events.”
One of these is a “Sailing With Railey” Fun Flotilla set for November. Charter guests will learn sailing tips and tricks from Olympic Medalist Zach Railey while sailing the BVI for a week.
Similarly, Horizon Yacht Charters has teamed up with America’s Cup helmsman Peter Holmberg to offer Racing Master Classes. “We are currently holding a competition where two lucky people will win a seven-night charter with Horizon and a day with Peter on board,” says marketing manager, Nicola Massey.
There will always be the bargain hunters, but there are far fewer boats giving large concessions for the next season and the inquiries are certainly coming in, says Hamilton. “With a few exceptions, we never did see the sensational mass discounts other tourist industries had to resort to and it looks like business will gradually continue to improve.”
PRICE DISCOUNT PROS & CONS
Price reductions are enticing charter guests to St. Vincent & The Grenadines, says Narendra ‘Seth’ Sethia, base manager for Barefoot Yacht Charters, headquartered in Blue Lagoon. “In the current economy our view is that additional amenities on the yacht, special packages and the like are insignificant when compared to price reductions. The clients we are seeing simply want to pay less. Thus, we are being more flexible with pricing and offering more deals to make the vacation more affordable.”
However, Sethia adds, “One very important fact to bear in mind is our location. Were we in the BVI or St. Martin, our responses may perhaps have been different. But the huge disadvantage of St. Vincent & The Grenadines is the difficulty and high cost of air access. Because of this, everything in the Grenadines is about pricing. “We have to provide a financial palliative to the astronomical air costs and that simply means cutting rates.”
Dick Schoonover, who manages the clearinghouse CharterPort BVI in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, is against price reductions. “The punters shop, arm-twist, negotiate and whine, but in the end, once you’ve agreed they can have the week aboard for free, they complain that we didn’t buy ‘em the plane tickets too, so they don’t do the trip.”
With prices for provisions and goods up perhaps 30 percent over last year in the islands, says Schoonover, “in my opinion, ‘no discounts apply’, nor should apply. I have been extremely resistant toward discounting and lowering rates, but of course each and every individual operator has his or her own agenda and priorities.”