A sampling of the responses from crewed brokerages and bareboat companies provides a peek at the hot trends in the Caribbean charter yacht industry.
1. Business is Looking Up for Charters!
Business seems better, says Ann McHorney, founder and director of Select Yachts, in St. Maarten. “More repeats are popping up.”
Dick Schoonover, manager of CharterPort BVI, a Tortola, BVI-based yacht clearinghouse, agrees and adds, “While the constant media barrage tells us the economy is down, the economic strata that are booking crewed charters haven’t seen the pinch. Take the week of New Year, for example. The smart money was booking New Year 2013/2014 back in April. Back in June, on one day, our busiest brokerage up north held three boats for three different customers, all with dates in May 2014. May has never been a high demand month, so it’s a bit quirky to see people booking 11 months out for one of the slowest charter months of the year.”
Narendra ‘Seth’ Sethia, base manager for Barefoot Yacht Charters & Marine Centre in St. Vincent & The Grenadines, says, “More budget-orientated crewed yachts seem to have received less businesses as those yachts cater to less affluent clients who still may be getting back on their feet post-recession.”
2. Chartering is A’Changin
Owner-operators are decreasing, especially in the larger boats, in favor of owners using a management company to run their yachts. “There’s more interest in chartering as a business or a second business rather than something to do in semi-retirement,” explains Kelly Kiernan, acting director of the Virgin Islands Charteryacht League (VICL) and director of the St. Thomas-based clearinghouse, Flagship.
On the marketing side, Select Yacht’s McHorney says, “We are seeing more use of video as a promotional function. There are a number of support companies out there focusing on yacht videography. We expect to see a lot of nice new yacht videos from the yachts to assist with charter sales.”
3. Credit Cards Rule – Almost
“More and more people expect to use a credit card to pay for their charter,” says Steve McCrea, president of Edgecomb, ME-based Ed Hamilton & Co.
Select Yacht’s McHorney, says, “We haven’t made the leap to accepting them [credit cards]. We work on a very small percentage so the inherent liabilities of a ‘charge back’ are really frightening.”
As for gratuities, “Some people still carry cash, but guests are now encouraged to set up wire instructions before they leave home so they can wire large gratuities easily at the end of their charter and to avoid carrying large sums of cash around,” explains Jacqui Pascall, reservationist at Horizon Yacht Charter’s Grenada base.
4. Yachts: Size Matters – Bigger is Better
“While the all-inclusive crewed yachts lend themselves perfectly to family trips,” says Shannan Brennan, the Tampa/St. Petersburg, FL-based global marketing manager at The Moorings and head of marketing for North America for The Moorings, Sunsail and Footloose, “we find that many guests are preferring to go as groups of three or four couples to split the cost of the larger, more luxurious vessels in our fleet. The same principle can be applied to bareboat charters. Historically, bareboat charters have constituted mostly of monohulls accommodating maybe four to six guests. But now, catamarans are proving to be the norm. Clients are focusing less on the performance aspect of the boats and more on the size and comfort aspect, attempting to fit eight to ten guests on board on a regular basis.”
5. Must-Haves: Wi-Fi & Water Toys
“People expect more equipment today,” says Barefoot’s Sethia. “When I started in this business 31 years ago, you could send a bareboat out with a towed log line, a depth-sounder, a VHF radio and a music system. These days you have to add autopilot, wind instruments, chart plotter and, very often, things like Wi-Fi.”
Charter guests are burning through the month-long cellular connection quota for a yacht in one week, adds CharterPort’s Schoonover. “Kids think that they just have to Skype and YouTube their friends or else download movies while they are aboard.”
Sarah Sebastian, owner of Nicholson Yacht Charters & Services, in Antigua, says, “Stand-up paddleboards are big and so are blowup slides on motoryachts. Something new we’re seeing is ‘the beach’ on motoryachts or swim platforms equipped with a lounge, umbrella and wet bar.”
6. Cuisine Goes Light & Healthy
Forget booze cruises with multi-course heavily sauced meals. “I just had a charter guest tell me they would have preferred simpler food but the chef kept trying to make everything too fancy and the children did not like it,” says Select Yacht’s McHorney. “We get asked for a lot of fresh produce, and gluten free diets seem to be the latest thing.”
7. Destination, Destination, Destination
“More motoryachts are venturing down to the Southern Caribbean,” says Nicholson’s Sebastian.
At the same time, the VICL’s Kiernan adds, “We’re seeing more charter requests for the U.S. and Spanish Virgin Islands. Why? Vieques and Culebra have fabulous beaches and most importantly they aren’t as crowded.”