Trends in Charter: How the pandemic has impacted the industry

Written by Rebecca Denne

SuperYacht Times asked the all-important questions to seven charter companies about their experience of the Covid-19 pandemic; how it impacted their business; what challenges they faced; and what the future holds.

From remote working to endless Zoom calls, it’s fair to say that the pandemic has drastically impacted the way we do business. But what has it meant for charter companies and the way they operate not only now, but in the future? 

Of course the most prevalent concern for most of these companies is revenue, with bottom lines directly hit from March 2020. Head of Charter James Graham-Cloete at TWW Yachts explains: ‘Early bookings for the Med season were down due to the pandemic, with the May and June charters cancelled or postponed. The TWW Charter Fleet also saw fewer of the larger vessels crossing back to the Med from the Caribbean, and this had a direct impact on summer revenue YoY. From the TWW fleet yachts, we saw a 25% reduction in charter revenue for 2020, mainly due to the delayed start to season and the larger vessels not returning from the Caribbean.’ However, Graham-Cloete reveals all was not lost: ‘From late June last year, enquiries and bookings picked up, as we saw travel restrictions eased, with many last-minute charters being booked and an upturn in the bookings for Croatia and Turkey, which were accessible to non-EU customers. This trend continued very late into the season – far longer than in previous years.’  Flying Fox yacht by Lürssen in MonacoPhoto: SuperYacht TimesSacha Williams, Director of Charter Marketing at Camper & Nicholsons echoes the challenges TWW faced: ‘We had a lot of bookings in the Caribbean, Bahamas and SE Asia at the start of the pandemic that had to be postponed, so we were immediately impacted. We acted quickly by launching the global Jet-to-Yacht program in November 2020, allowing our clients to go from door to passerelle in the safest, most exclusive way possible. While this was a success – and the market did pick up during the summer months – it only partially compensated for the loss of activity across the year. We usually have an almost equal distribution of American and European clients, for example, but this year the markets remained local.’Flying Fox yacht by Lürssen in MonacoPhoto: Charl van Rooy / SuperYacht TimesWhile charters were understandably on-hold for much of 2020, where were guests visiting when travel was finally possible?

Raphael Sauleau, CEO of Fraser says there was a specific group of destinations that piqued interest: ‘We saw an influx of guests in Croatia as it was one of the first countries to open charter to citizens. After that, as more countries began to lift restrictions, we saw a return to the traditional regions: the south and west Mediterranean in the summer, with a strong increase in Greece and Turkey, and for the winter, the Caribbean, where the 2020-2021 season has been relatively active.’ Kismet yacht by Lürssen in MonacoPhoto: Charl van Rooy / SuperYacht TimesCompanies such as Fraser had to be reactive in line with ever-changing travel restrictions, says Sauleau: ‘We ran a very successful campaign called “Take a New Look at…” where we invited charterers to re-discover locations and destinations in their own countries. New England showed a lot of demand for our American clients, as did Corsica and Croatia for our European clients during the summer.’  Kismet yacht by Lürssen in MiamiPhoto: Charl van Rooy / SuperYacht TimesSo, looking to the year ahead: how is 2021 shaping up for the industry? 

Ekaterina Pavlova, Imperial Charter Central Agent says that the pandemic has provided a fresh overview of charter regions: ‘Many clients are now thinking about new remote regions. We see an increase in demand for regions such as French Polynesia, Middle East, Madagascar, Mauritius, Indonesia, Central America and Northern Europe – even Russia.’ The Flying Dutchman yacht deckWhile clients are broadening their horizons, will this trend remain true post-pandemic?

SuperYachtsMonaco Charter Broker, Christopher Craven predicts: ‘I think Croatia will have another strong year, and with the lower VAT of 9.6-12% in Greece, I see the Aegean being another popular destination in 2021. I would love to see increased business in more adventurous locations such as the Norwegian fjords, Alaska, Greenland and Svalbard this summer, but old habits die hard. The same old favourites will bring in the charterers – Sardinia, Corsica, SoF, Balearics and Amalfi coast. All stunning destinations, of course.’ Preference 19 yacht anchored toysPhoto: TWW YachtsBut how about guests? Other than luxury and a once-in-a-lifetime experience, what else is a priority when they’re chartering their next vessel? 

IYC’s Charter Management Director Heather Hatcher says: ‘Guests are looking for a place to safely social distance with their families. As always, our guests are very discerning and prefer privacy. I think you will see the trend leaning more towards water and yacht excursions rather than land activities. A charter vessel offers several amenities such as a spa experience, restaurant, gym and entertainment and full-time staff to cater to each client’s individual desires. There are few reasons to ever even leave the vessel!’ Lana yacht by BenettiPhoto: ©Imperial - Jeff Brown / Breed MediaSo chartering a superyacht could be an ideal solution for those concerned around the safety of other holidays, perhaps. Yachting Partners International (YPI) Head of Charter Retail, Nickie Tannock-Vincent concurs: ‘Our clients want exclusivity and safety. Once travel is easier, I predict that yacht charter will become very popular with many new clients trying out this great way of spending a holiday in utter privacy and safety.’ In fact, Tannock-Vincent is optimistic: ‘I am confident that this season is going to be a very good one. At YPI we have a number of cancelled bookings from 2020 that have been moved to 2021, which means that many of the yachts are going to be fully booked this summer ahead of the season by either regular clients or new.’Madsummer yacht by Lürssen in Costa RicaPhoto: Nico CartallaSo, could 2021 be the year of the superyacht after all? 

Ekaterina Pavlova, Imperial Charter Central Agent has high hopes, but predicts guests will be upping the ante with what they desire on board: ‘Clients will seek superyachts that are boasting impressive spa facilities and fantastic gastronomy. Expectations are going to be even higher.’ But surely, it comes down to having a memorable adventure on the ocean? Pavlova concludes: ‘The more toys you can bring on board, the more fun you can create and memories that go with. After such a frustrating year, clients want to reconnect with their family and friends and harness happiness in these troubled times. They are looking for a charter experience that will make them escape the craziness and re-discover the entire world.’ Here’s to 2021.Lana yacht by BenettiPhoto: ©Imperial - Jeff Brown / Breed MediaThe article was originally published in the Spring 2021 issue of The SuperYacht Times newspaper To receive all future issues straight to your door, subscribe to the newspaper here.

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