Has the pandemic changed brokerage for good?

Written by Naina Parasher

The world’s markets have been dramatically affected by the pressures posed by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic – and yachting is no exception. We catch up with brokers from Burgess, Northrop & Johnson, Fraser, Denison and Cecil Wright & Partners to see how the yacht sales market has adapted to different technologies to help clients through these exceptional times.  Raphael Sauleau and W. Brett McGill announce MarineMax's acquisition of FraserPhoto: Fraser YachtsA seller’s market

When the World Health Organisation officially declared Covid-19 a pandemic on 11 March 2020, it triggered an onslaught of constantly-changing regulations that have affected all aspects of yachting, including brokerage.

Analysts were quick to anticipate a seller’s market – a condition characterised by a shortage of goods available for sale. While it is still too soon to tell if this is the case, with travel banned, refits delayed, sales postponed and charterers’ trips cancelled indefinitely, the day-to-day business for a sales broker has been reconditioned to fit new uncertainties. Managing Director of Denison Yacht Sales, Bob Denison commented, “I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, it’s the first time it really feels like a seller’s market might be emerging.” 

Notably too, for Josh Gulbranson, Sales Broker at Fraser, the current situation has encouraged more long-term thinking from clients – a positive when it comes to sales: “While the pandemic has certainly restricted clients’ ability to come and visit boats first-hand, many people are interested in buying, and the sense of urgency has increased. More clients are seeing that a yacht can be a safe haven, and those that have primarily been charterers are now thinking about being owners.” Burgess marketing content Virtual showings 

As more countries fell under strict quarantine regulations from March, the use of technology became integral for closing deals. The lack of in-person yacht visits was compensated through the use of detailed walkthrough videos and virtual tours. For brokerage companies, this shift entailed building digital repositories of yachts. While video tours and use of 3D photography technologies became ubiquitous, in some cases, virtual tours involving a Zoom call and live commentary of the yacht's specifications were also carried out. This also allowed industry peers and prospective clients to ask questions at any point during the tour as they would in person.

For Cecil Wright & Partners, having the Matterport system (a three-dimensional camera system used for creating immersive and realistic experiences) in use since 2016 meant that the company already had 3D scans of its fleet ready for marketing. Henry Smith, Sales Broker at Cecil Wright & Partners, commented: “Throughout lockdown, we hosted virtual tours of our central agency yachts. The captains were able to talk over the presentation as I ‘walked’ through the yachts on the normal route I would take if I were actually on board.” Cecil Wright Since introducing this technology, the brokers have managed to sell four yachts [at time of writing]. “In 2019, the buyer of the 56.5-metre Feadship Ambition was so confident in the technology that he only physically saw her for the first time once he had bought her, and she had crossed the Atlantic!” Smith recalls. 

Bob Denison, Managing Director of Denison, describes a similar experience:  “Denison was really lucky to have a head start on some of our competitors. We already had a library of a few hundred video tours and virtual tours in place, since digital marketing has been a core part of our business model since the early 2000s.” Bob Denison Photo: Denison Yacht SalesA new market going forward?

Technologies that allow digital walkthroughs such as the 3D imaging system, virtual tours or even Zoom presentations add to the experience of buying a yacht and make the preliminary processes smoother. Whether someone can visit a vessel in person or not, being able to offer the chance to ‘visit’ again online is an undeniable benefit.

In spite of recent relaxations in travel regulations, the continued use of the latest imaging technologies for marketing seems to be in the pipeline for all brokers we consulted. “As travel restrictions ease, it is easier to get people onto yachts for viewings. However, at Burgess, we have invested heavily in creating a unique library of 360 videos of our yachts so that we can bring the yacht to the customer too,” commented Richard Lambert, Head of Sales at Burgess.

This technology has existed for years, but, as Patrick Coote, Chief Marketing Officer of Northrop & Johnson Europe explains, “The lockdown gave us the kickstart everyone needed to engage, embrace, buy in and implement them faster.”  Monaco Yacht Show 2019Photo: Charl van Rooy / SuperYacht TimesThis article first appeared in a recent issue of The SuperYacht Times newspaper. To subscribe, visit the SuperYacht Times Shop here.



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