Once the best-kept travel secret of the affluent, superyacht charters are bringing a new generation to exotic, out-of-the-way destinations.
Summer holidays along the Amalfi Coast are a marvel for the senses. From languid explorations of narrow alleyways that meander through Positano—a picturesque Italian town where pastel-colored buildings perch on a hillside that rises precipitously from the Mediterranean’s azure waters—to meals at hidden culinary gems in the historic fishing village of Cetara, the 31-mile stretch of postcard-perfect coastline offers authentic moments, interactions and revelations around every corner. To experience it per terra—fighting the high season’s traffic—is tragic. To discover the Amalfi Coast dall’acqua, on the other hand, is sublime.
Therein lies the beauty of a luxury yacht charter; and as more discerning, affluent travelers learn of these charms, the demand to charter grows stronger. Not surprisingly, the market is as robust as it’s ever been.
“This is the busiest season I’ve seen yet,” says Barbara Dawson, a senior charter broker who has worked for Camper & Nicholsons for 26 years. “I couldn’t take all the business I was so busy.”
Dawson, who made those comments near the end of the summer, isn’t the only charter broker to experience a spike in business. Brokerage firms across the industry are reporting record years for charter sales—an influx of activity driven mostly by a strong U.S. economy and an emerging American audience made up of first-time charter clients and discriminating individuals who have established their wealth at far younger ages than did previous generations.
“The thing that attracts people to this industry is exclusivity,” Dawson says. “The ability to get away from the crowds but to be near the crowds in highly desirable areas—that’s a huge plus. You can’t move your holiday around the world like you can on a yacht. It’s your own private getaway; there’s no other vacation like it.”
This new yacht-chartering audience didn’t stumble on the industry and the lifestyle by chance. As Dawson explains, yachting’s popularity surged about a decade ago—a movement fueled by social media. Today’s first-time charterers were introduced to the life via posts on Facebook and Instagram, and for the better part of a decade they’ve aspired to experience it for themselves. The industry is also in the midst of a digital revolution, with new charter-booking platforms emerging.
“Younger generations are looking for the extraordinary experience rather than a regular charter holiday.”
—Anthony Baud, Fraser Yachts
Beyond attractive new digital outlets, the charter industry is also evolving to meet this younger generation’s demands. In particular, with most millennials deeming experiences more valuable than possessions, brokers are customizing itineraries to include more land-based activities, like biking and hiking tours. While many older, established charter clients were content to simply see a new destination, this emerging audience wants to experience it. “The perception of a yacht charter vacation is changing and appealing to a wider audience,” says Richard Lambert, head of sales at Burgess Yachts. “We are seeing a greater appetite for charter as an experience-led activity with a greater emphasis on access to the water and on watersports.”
Some experts forecast these trends years ago. Thys Nikkels, the managing director of Dykstra Naval Architects in Amsterdam, has watched superyacht designs become gradually more influenced by the uses envisioned by people who charter the vessels than by single owners commissioning builds. “Younger people will charter more than they will own,” according to Nikkels. “You don’t have to create a boat that’s versatile and can do everything. It can be a very specialized boat. There will be a lot of clients who will want to charter the boat because they’ve been looking for that.”
By way of example, Nikkels recalls that when he assumed his role as managing director in 2004, Dykstra Naval Architects’ owner Gerard Dykstra developed his own personal yacht, one that was built to cruise in the cold climates found along the higher latitudes of the globe. It quickly inspired the construction of similar yachts for Dykstra’s other clients, and Nikkels predicted that the chartering market would eventually follow the same path. “I do think that the charter market will grow into exploratory yachts and high-latitude sailing,” he said. “Our clients are already taking their boats that are designed to go there. Even the boats that aren’t designed for that, they’ll sail the Northwest Passage [in Alaska]. It’s more extreme cruising.”
While the Mediterranean remains the most in-demand destination for yacht charters, brokers across the industry are indeed seeing more adventurous locales in far-flung regions of the world gain traction among the new breed of chartering consumers. From the Galápagos Islands to Greenland, as well as Antarctica, Patagonia, Indonesia, and Japan, the new docket of charter destinations is diverse. “Younger generations are looking for the extraordinary experience rather than a regular charter holiday,” says Anthony Baud, a charter broker for Fraser Yachts. “Exploration yachts are a big trend for new generations looking to explore the world.”
“Yachting is one of the most luxurious, if not the most luxurious holiday you can do,” adds Tove Johnson, another charter broker for Fraser Yachts. “Clients are chartering a floating seven-star hotel with a professional crew to look after them 24/7. Instead of staying at one hotel or place for their holiday, they can now wake up in a different beautiful bay every day. It’s a fantastic way to see an area or country.”
CHARTER BOOKING GOES DIGITAL
As a new superyacht-chartering audience has emerged, so has a new method for researching, reserving, and paying for such a charter. Digital platforms—including YOTHA, Yachtside Charter, and Yachtlife—expedite the process of finding a yacht to charter while making the entire process more transparent. “We aim to serve as the matchmaker between boat and guest, enabling a seamless charter experience for all,” says Carlo Benveduti, the CEO of YOTHA.
The digital charter platform that Benveduti helms was founded by a yacht owner and charterer with more than 15 years of experience doing both. He grew frustrated with how the yacht charter operation was run—both as a yacht owner and as a prospective chartering client—believing that charterers lost the ability to control all aspects of the booking process, while yacht owners were forced to pay exorbitant commission payments.
YOTHA alleviates those issues by letting clients negotiate charter rates directly with the owner; manage their itineraries through a partnership with the private concierge service Quintessentially; and communicate directly with the yacht’s captain before the voyage. Yacht owners, by contrast, typically pay an 8 percent commission compared to the customary 15 percent paid through the traditional chartering model.
The platform also gives owners more control over determining the minimum duration of a charter, as well as the time of year their yachts can be made available. “By providing greater booking flexibility,” Benveduti says, “the platform aims to give owners more options to easily make more capital from their yacht.”
Some charter brokers have criticized digital platforms, suggesting that minimizing a broker’s involvement in a deal can lead to headaches if issues arise during the charter itself. However, some of the yachting industry’s leading charter brokerage companies are partnering with the new platforms. Camper & Nicholsons and Northrop & Johnson work directly with Yachtside Charter, for example.
The new platforms were created to serve the needs of millennials, who are accustomed to managing their lives digitally. But as Benveduti acknowledges, YOTHA’s features are likely to appeal to yacht enthusiasts across all generations. “By instilling more trust, transparency, and convenience to the charter market,” he says, “we are aiming to attract more customers into this ‘entry gate’ to the luxury yacht world.”
by Shaun Tolson