Photo courtesy of MarineMax
Photo courtesy of MarineMax

Caribbean Charter Trends for the 2015-2016 Season

Eco-consciousness – Connectivity & On Board Amenities – Future Bookings. These are a few of the hot topics All At Sea posed to nine crewed and bareboat charter companies represented throughout the Caribbean and asked them for a trends forecast. Here’s what we discovered:

Yacht Type
True sailors continue to love the monohull ride and there are a few new builds popping up in charter fleets.

However, “there’s unprecedented growth in catamarans. Sailing catamarans 46-to 48-feet in length are preferred by most charter guests,” says Ian Pedersen, marketing manager for The Moorings – North America, headquartered in Clearwater, Florida.

There’s a significant shift from sail to power, according to Raul Bermudez, vice president of the charter division and Aquila Yacht Sales, for Clearwater, Florida-based MarineMax. “Even ‘sailors’ prefer the comforts that power catamarans offer. Our new MarineMax 443 is sold out for the next 12 months. The master cabin of this model spans the entire 21ft 6in beam with a king size bed that has full walk around access.”

Food & Beverage
“Healthy and low-fat is still requested on crewed yachts,” says Ann McHorney, director of charter sales for Select Yachts, with offices in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and St. Maarten. “Gluten free is still a happening thing. Food stacking and artistic sauce ‘painting’ makes for pretty dishes.”

On the bareboat side, “guests like to provision themselves at large discount supermarkets like Walmart,” adds Jim Veiga, owner of Sail Caribe and Atlas Yacht Sales, in Ceiba, Puerto Rico.

Connectivity & On Board Amenities
“Connectivity is hugely important, now bordering on expected,” says Steve McCrea, president of Ed Hamilton & Co., based in Edgecomb, Maine.

MarineMax’s Bermudez agrees. “Most guests, especially the younger ones, want to stay connected and brag about their vacation on Facebook and other social media sites. We offer free Wi-Fi access on all of our boats as part of the charter.”

Guests hiring from Horizon Yacht Charters, in St. Georges, Grenada, receive a complimentary local phone to use for their voyage. “They find hot spots for internet access or get a special roaming SIM card for iPhones. Our yachts also have plugs available for iPad and iPhone charging,” explains managing director Jacqui Pascall.

Beyond Internet access, Hamilton’s McCrea says, “The next big item for bareboats is a watermaker, which is starting to appear in fleets.”

Water Toys
“Kayaks, SUPs and surfboards are all popular,” explains Narendra Sethia, director at Barefoot Yacht Charters, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. “One water sport we’ve seen grow is kite-surfing. There are excellent places for this in the Grenadines, such as Windward Bay on Mayreau, and Ashton Harbour at Union Island.”

Cutting edge for large yachts, adds Sail Caribe’s Veiga, “are large inflatable water toys such as slides and trampolines.”

Barefoot – Young or old, everyone has fun on a Caribbean yacht charter. Photo courtesy of Barefoot Yacht Charters
Barefoot – Young or old, everyone has fun on a Caribbean yacht charter. Photo courtesy of Barefoot Yacht Charters

Location, Location, Destination
“The BVI is called the ‘Sailing Capital of the World’ for a reason. That said, we have seen exciting growth in other destinations like the Bahamas, St. Martin and Belize,” says the Moorings’ Pedersen.

The Grenadines are starting to eclipse the St Maarten/Antigua/Leewards cruising ground, adds Barefoot’s Sethia. “This is certainly true for bareboats and is reflected in the number of yachts now available in this region for charter. When St Vincent’s international airport opens, likely in 2016, we think that the Grenadines will see even more of an increase in overall charter business.”

“We are getting more USVI start requests, partly because of the convenience and partly because the easing of the six-pack law makes USVI pick-ups for larger groups easier now,” says Select Yachts’ McHorney.

Peak Periods
“Christmas and New Year’s Holidays are the top weeks, followed by March or April, depending on when schools have Easter break. June and July are also well-liked by families or those involved in education. Non-traditional months gaining in popularity include August and October. This is because there are some deals to be had during these months and the weather is still fantastic in the Caribbean,” says MarineMax’ Bermudez.

Easter is definitely growing in popularity, tells Cindy Chestnut, who with husband Brian, own Conch Charters in the BVI. “We could charter three times the boats if we had them during this holiday.”

“The summer months are increasing in bookings quite rapidly, perhaps spurred on by the now widespread availability of air conditioning on charter yachts,” says the Moorings’ Pedersen.

Eco-Consciousness
“There’s no question that guests are becoming more environmentally aware.  Holding tanks are a must, and indeed are legally required in many – but not all – destinations. Dish detergents, body lotions and soaps that are organic rather than chemically-based are also important,” tells Barefoot’s Sethia.

There’s no need to sacrifice luxury in order to be environmentally friendly and provide a fantastic vacation,” says Brianne Beatty, broker at Flagship Charter Yacht Services and executive director of the Virgin Islands Charteryacht League, in St. Thomas. “Crewed charter yachts are an incredible example of this, for example providing sustainable solar power, filtered water through water makers, reusable water bottles, eco-friendly cleaning products and scavenger hunt style beach clean ups.”

Who Charters?
The core of the charter industry remains couples ages 45 to 65 years, mostly residing in the coastal regions of the United States and Canada. Beyond this, charter clients are getting younger, especially those booking chartering power boats, while at the same time three generational family charters are prevalent.

“Growing markets for us have been Brazil and Russia, both home to huge sailing communities and, we think, still relatively untapped markets. India is another country poised to become a huge potential source of charter guests. The more affluent Indians are well-heeled, willing to spend money and are looking for further-afield destinations and leisure pursuits,” says Barefoot’s Sethia.

Bookings
Charter yacht bookings were strong this year and look even more so for 2016, according to the Moorings’ Pedersen. There’s a strong trend towards advance bookings being made four to six months prior to the scheduled departure date, which is a very encouraging sign.”

 

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian. 

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