What are the latest charter trends? All At Sea asked eight crewed and bareboat charter companies represented throughout the Caribbean to give their views on seven hot topics. Here’s what they said:
1: What is the number one thing charterers ask for?
“For crewed yachts, it’s the number of cabins and heads/showers and whether they are shared or private and ensuite,” says Kathleen Mullen, charter and yacht sales broker for Tortola, BVI-based Regency Yacht Vacations. “Americans hate sharing bathrooms.”
Bareboat charterers ask most frequently for generators and air-conditioning, explains Jim Veiga, owner of SailCaribe Yacht Charters based at Marina Puerto del Rey, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico.
Yet Steve McCrea, president of Ed Hamilton & Company, in Edgecomb, Maine, has found there is no one thing. “What most people are looking for is insight and, in speaking with them in more detail about their plans, what they are looking for on paper doesn’t always translate to practicality. So it’s a matter of finding out what’s most important to a specific charter group and helping them find it.”
2. What is most important to charter guests?
“We usually know quite early in the selection process if we have foodies, partiers, laid back family style people or water sports lovers, and that’s when we use our knowledge to match the right boat and crew,” says Ann McHorney, director and charter sales person for Select Yachts, located in Simpson Bay, St. Maarten.
Comfort is what charter guests are most concerned about, explains Ian Pedersen, assistant marketing manager for the Clearwater, Florida-headquartered Moorings. “Whether that means air conditioning, a clean boat, fresh food, cold drinks, fun water toys, a microwave or a hairdryer may differ from person to person, but ultimately everyone wants to know they will enjoy a comfortable and fun stay on board.”
The most important thing to charterers depends on what sort of charter they are looking for, says Narendra ‘Seth’ Sethia, director at Barefoot Yacht Charters, Blue Lagoon, St. Vincent & The Grenadines. “If it’s a bareboat, then it’s: (a) age and condition of the yacht; and (b) price. For a crewed yacht, it’s: (a) affordability; and (b) the crew.”
3. Who are today’s charterers?
“Our chartering public is still very much from North America,” explains Dick Schoonover, manager at CharterPort BVI, located at Village Cay Marina, in Tortola. “Our target market continues to be the doctor-attorney-chartered accountants-dentist crowd that has always been the bread-and-butter. The people with both the disposable income and ability to manage their holiday time. By far and away, they remain non-sailors.
Select Yacht’s McHorney agrees and adds, “We get a lot of Californians, along with New Englanders, and lately a lot of Midwesterners and clientele from Atlanta. We also get French, Italian, British, and Canadians, along with a few other nationalities.”
4. What are charter operators doing to differentiate themselves from competitors?
“All the mod cons (modern conveniences) come on crewed yachts these days – electric toilets, stall showers, air conditioning and big generators. But the yacht crews separate themselves by having and using the water sports toys as well as staying flexible to each client’s needs. Listening is a critical skill,” explains Regency’s Mullen.
Beyond this, CharterPort’s Schoonover says, “One of our monohulls is now offering $300 each towards guests’ flights to St. Thomas, just to think outside the box.”
As for bareboats, it’s “making the yacht feel as comfortable and homey as possible. More like a hotel room, for example, in terms of quality of furnishings and galley equipment,” says Guy Phoenix, marketing manager for Horizon Yacht Charters, headquartered at Nanny Cay Marina, in Tortola, BVI.
5. Do repeat charterers tend to stick with the same yacht?
On one hand, “a lot develop a loyalty to a boat they know and love. If we can, we will get that same boat for them in another location,” answers Select Yacht’s McHorney.
On the other hand, Barefoot’s Sethia has found that clients rarely repeat the exact same yacht. “This is either because they’re looking for something younger the next time around, or because the make-up of their group has changed,” he says.
“Many repeat charters tend to steadily graduate to larger and newer model yachts,” adds the Moorings Pedersen. “Once they experience chartering for the first time, it is a world that they want to share with their friends. Therefore, very often you see couples and families bringing other couples and families along and chartering a larger boat (or two) to accommodate the extra guests.”
6. How do you see the timeliness of bookings as an economic barometer of the industry?
“There seems to be a phenomenally high number of enquiries for a year in advance for crewed charters, so people are suddenly planning ahead again,” says CharterPort BVI’s Schoonover.
Yet, says Barefoot’s Sethia, “I find that over the years the lead time has reduced. More folks are looking for last-minute deals and more folks seem to have the ability to get out on vacation at short notice. Fifteen years ago our lead booking time for bareboats was probably around six months, now it’s typically two to three months, but very often less than a month.”
7. Where is chartering heading in the future?
“It’s the power and crewed yacht products where I see the future of the charter industry,” says the Moorings Pedersen. “The lure of bareboat sailing certainly has its place and will continue to prosper for years to come, however, increasingly we are seeing the non-sailor market discovering and falling in love with vacationing on the water, and power catamarans and crewed yachts open this world to those who cannot sail themselves but want to experience the lifestyle just the same.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.