A yacht charter in the Caribbean is a spectacular way to socially distance and savor a five-star vacation too. While the global yacht charter market saw a sharp decline in 2020 due to the pandemic, the easing of lockdown restrictions, greater vaccination rates and bounce back in overall tourism is poised to put the market at pre-Covid levels, possibly higher, by 2022. What’s more, the global yacht charter market is poised to grow by double digits through 2028, according to the February 2021-released report, Yacht Charter Market Size, Market Share, Application Analysis, Regional Outlook, Growth Trends, Key Players, Competitive Strategies and Forecasts, 2020 to 2028, by ResearchAndMarkets.com With this rebound in mind, ALL AT SEA asked charter companies, brokers and charter organizations that worked in the Caribbean what they see as current and future trends.
Yacht Charter Demand is Definitely Up.
Demand for charters for the upcoming season is higher than in the past ten years, according to Ian Pedersen, senior marketing manager at The Moorings & Sunsail, headquartered in Clearwater, FL, which have bases in Antigua, the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Grenada, Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Martin and St. Thomas, USVI. “We are beginning to see slim availability for certain yacht types and certain destinations months earlier than usual. This is due to a combination of existing charters from 2020 and 2021 that needed to be pushed into 2022 due to Covid and regular charterers eager to set sail again after the challenges of the past year and a half. But also, we are seeing many new clients discovering the yacht charter product for the first time who may otherwise have been interested in a cruise ship or other type of holiday.”
A good example of demand is that many of the 65 to 70 member yachts of the BVI Charter Yacht Society (CYS) are fully booked for the 2021-2022 season, and several are already accepting bookings for the 2022-2023 season, says Graham Gips, the CYS’s board of directors chairman and captain with wife Kristiann of the 44-ft Fountaine Pajot catamaran, Allende. “This level of advance booking is unprecedented, and a significant number of new boats are making the BVI home to meet demand.”
Top Concerns: Flexibility & Safety
Top concerns center on flexibility due to COVID and the ever-changing travel landscape and cleanliness/safety.
“People are still concerned about traveling,” says Dick Schoonover, manager of Tortola, BVI-based clearinghouse, CharterPort BVI.
Some of this is over potential last-minute government changes due to COVID as well as if someone gets COVID and cannot travel, adds Ann McHorney, director and charter sales specialist for Select Yachts, based in Fort Lauderdale, FL. “The industry is trying to cover impending situations with contractual changes and addendums designed to protect the boats, crews and owners. More people are buying trip insurance, a good idea as a ‘just in case’.”
How a yacht is cleaned between charters, often on a 24-hour turn-around, is a top concern of clients, says Oriel Blake, executive director of the Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association (VIPCA), in St. Thomas, USVI. “The answer provided by crews of VIPCA’s membership is that all vessels are meticulously cleaned before welcoming guests onboard, including routine cleaning plus frequent disinfection of surfaces and objects before and throughout the charter. All interior surfaces are cleaned thoroughly with a disinfectant solution, including walls, countertops, tables, light switches, handrails, and doorknobs. All exterior surfaces also are washed down thoroughly with special attention to disinfecting dining areas, coolers, trash bins, and any common guest-use items touched frequently like an icebox, sunscreen bottles, and sliding door handles. Guest linens and towels are freshly laundered including mattress protector, pillow protectors, and throw pillow covers, and throw pillows and salon cushions get sprayed with disinfectant.”
What’s Most Important in a Yacht Charter?
Beyond safety and cleanliness, charterers look at the overall appearance of the yacht first, according to Select Yachts’ McHorney. “Does it look comfortable and a good value for its size? Some clients are ‘foodies’, but most just want good food, nicely presented and to their taste. We are seeing a lot of special diets, and those are usually always easily accommodated. Toys are important, some guests will request specific items and not seem happy with the existing list.”
Customization in Key in Crewed Charters
There has been a huge uplift in crewed charter interest and guests will continue to treat themselves to a special vacation to make the most of time together with family and friends, says Dan Lockyer, vice president of global tourism for Dream Yacht Charter, based in Annapolis, MD. “They are attracted to the ability to work with the crew to curate the vacation of their dreams in terms of itinerary and menu. Guests want to have a vacation that no one can recreate easily.”
Restrictions during the pandemic necessitated that crewed yachts focus more on yacht-related activities and special experiences, and these options will likely remain forefront over the coming season, adds the CYS and Allende’s Gips. “Examples include high-end water toys such as SeaBob’s, beach bonfires with local historians and storytellers, guided off-the-beaten-track tours tailored to the guest’s interests, and local music concerts on the yacht.”
Bigger Bareboats for Charter
At The Moorings, Pedersen says he’s seeing a trend towards larger and more luxurious catamarans, both for sailing and power charters. “We have done our best to meet that demand with new, larger yachts such as the Moorings 5000 sailing catamaran, and the Moorings 534 power catamaran, both larger and better-equipped than their predecessors. Highlights such as full-size refrigerator/freezer, zoned air conditioning, watermakers, interior helm stations and electronic control panels with full yacht diagnostics all add to the relaxation, luxury, and convenience clients seek while on charter.”
The Power Appeal
Bareboat sailing charters remain king by far, but the popularity of power yacht charters continues to grow year after year, adds the Moorings’ Pedersen. “The ability of the average boater to captain a power catamaran themselves have opened yacht charters to a whole new audience.”
Looking ahead, “the industry is looking forward to welcoming some of the new solar yachts to the fleet soon! They are quiet, easy to maintain, and use fuel only if the generator is required for a big power load! It is a fabulous concept, friendly to our precious environment and more economical too,” says Select Yacht’s McHorney.
The Caribbean is Full of Charter Destinations
Some clients are looking at areas where they may not be as vulnerable to government restrictions and quarantines, according to McHorney. “Last season, the USVI was much easier to access than the BVI. So, the charters were mostly in the USVI’s, and people loved it there, so it’s been a bit of a renaissance. Also, we had a lot of charters out of Antigua and out of the Grenadines that all went well. The Bahamas is doing great too. They have devised a new streamlined electronic system to make chartering easier for both boats and charterers.”
During the last year, there has been greater interest in Saint Martin and Dream Yacht Charters base at Anse Marcel, says Lockyer. “We’ve seen increasing numbers of guests sailing there and heading on over to St. Barts.”
On-going issues with border controls between Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines due to COVID has led Horizon Yacht Charter to make the difficult decision to cease operating out of its Grenada base for season 2021/22, says Lesley Dowden, reservationist. “We will be moving all our yachts to our base in St Vincent for November. This then allows all our clients to sail in the Grenadines with ease. The big draw for the Grenadines is that once you have cleared quarantine you can visit all the islands in the chain without further restrictions, and the wildlife, especially in the Tobago Cays, has really burgeoned due to fewer visitors.”
Finally, says The Moorings Pedersen, “Whether you have chartered 10 times before or are chartering for the first time, Caribbean destinations have something for everyone. It’s onward and upward. This industry shows no signs of slowing down!”