There will be an impressive line-up of yachts at the 49th annual Antigua Charter Yacht Show. Set for December 6 to 11, this show and similar events held in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands in November are ideal venues to take a pulse on the Caribbean crewed yacht charter industry trends.
What's New in Antigua?
Several large vessels, including 200-plus-footers such as Maltese Falcon, Kogo, Phocea and Sycara V, have made Antigua the megayacht show of choice in the Caribbean.
Sara Sebastian, show coordinator, says, "We're seeing more megayacht owners put their yachts into commercial charter and they see the Caribbean as a safe, price conscious place rather than putting the yacht to bed in the Med or East Coast."
Still, Sebastian adds, "We like to have something for everyone. We have a number of yachts under 100-foot showing, both sail and power."
New this year is an added 'Sail Away' day to allow brokers to experience a 'micro charter'. Three different itineraries – to Green Island, Five Islands and Hermitage Bay or into Carlisle Bay – will give brokers a taste of the cruising grounds as well as a chance to observe crew at work on everything from serving a gourmet lunch to manning a vast array of water toys.
Also new is the format of the 'Concours de Chef' culinary competition.
"It will be a taster menu, or in other words small plates of local sustainable cuisine from the Caribbean," says Sebastian. "Today's charters aren't the booze cruises they use to be. Many guests are interested in eating both healthfully and of locally grown foods."
The final new feature of this year's Antigua Charter Yacht Show is a shuttle service between Nelson's Dockyard Marina in English Harbour and the Falmouth Harbour Marina and Antigua Yacht Club Marina in Falmouth.
Top Charter Trends
The economy continues to affect charters, says Jennifer Saia, president and charter specialist for The Sacks Group, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. "There is less lead time in bookings. For example, this summer was a last minute frenzy. We are seeing some 'important date' bookings, such as for the holidays and special birthdays, but not like it used to be."
Narendra 'Seth' Sethia, base manager for Barefoot Yacht Charters, headquartered in Blue Lagoon, St. Vincent and The Grenadines doesn't see crewed yachts receiving as many last minute bookings as bareboats. "Our lead time for crewed yachts varies from three months to a year," he says.
Some people are indeed booking ahead, says Dick Schoonover, manager at CharterPort BVI, in Tortola. "I'm surprised at how many enquiries we were getting for next summer. However, it is still a mix; the sense of recovery hasn't completely rebounded. Likewise, it still isn't particularly great for the yachts that only take two or four guests."
"Guest bookings," says Erik Ackerson, executive director of the Virgin Islands Charteryacht League (VICL), in St. Thomas, "are running about neck-and-neck by brokers and self-bookings.
I'm not sure the brokers like this, but the Web is so accessible
Who's doing the chartering often depends on the size of the vessel.
Barefoot's Sethia says, "Larger luxurious yachts tend to be operated by paid crews through clearinghouses, while smaller vessels are often owner/operator."
As for trends in the fleet, Allison Kaufmann, charter specialist for The Sacks Group, says, "There is huge range on the market, whether it's a 40-foot sailboat with only a captain, to a 200-foot megayacht with 15 crew members and beyond."
"Less than 20 percent of our fleet is monohull sailing yachts, and sadly, it's proven more and more difficult to attract charterers to them," says CharterPort BVI's Schoonover. "The wind is still free, and less than five percent of our fleet is motor yachts."
Today's charter guest is different than in the past.
"Our largest potential market consists of the 99.9 percent of folks who do not know how to sail and don't buy sailing magazines," says Barefoot's Sethia.
Janet Oliver, administrator at the Charteryacht Society of the BVI, agrees. "We have a lot of work to do to get the message out. A website presence alone is not enough to penetrate a new market."
On the other side of the coin, says the VICL's Ackerson, "There are many charter guests that have a lot of sailing experience. This makes the bareboat industry the main rival for the crewed yachts. These folks want to come down and have the luxuries of a captain and chef, but they want to be able to grab the wheel for themselves."
Couples that used to charter are now family groups, says CharterPort's Schoonover. "February used to be a big month. This has shifted to March and April, or Spring Break and Easter Break, for schools."
'Value-add', or offering additional or unique services to a charter rather than cost-cutting, has become a trend for yachts to entice bookings in a down economy.
"Anything relating to health and beauty, a chef who specializes in healthful dining or a masseuse, are great selling points," says The Sacks Group's Kaufmann. "I have seen some yachts offer full salon services such as manicures and pedicures or hair styling."
A full complement of water toys is in big demand, says Sebastian, who is also a broker for Nicholson Yachts in Antigua. "That includes kayaks, wake boards, kitesurfing and paddle boards."
Some yachts are blazing new territory in the value-add department.
"One of our members, appropriately named Good Medicine, is run by a pair of doctors who offer continuing medical education courses while on charter," says the VICL's Ackerson.
Finally, the Caribbean is still the hot spot when it comes to crewed charters.
"We're seeing interest from Russian clients who don't need a visa to come to Antigua," says Sebastian. "East Indians are showing interest as their country's economy has improved. The Chinese are almost ready, but not quite yet."
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.