BOAT Roundtable: How can superyacht expedition companies add value to superyacht charterers and owners?

11 August 2023 • by Sophia Wilson for Cookson Adventures

How expedition companies can work in better harmony with the brokerage industry was debated at a special roundtable event held at the Yacht Club de Monaco this summer (6 July). Hosted by BOAT International, in collaboration with Cookson Adventures, 12 experts from the leading brokerage houses joined the exclusive lunch.

Watch highlights from the event here…

­The aim

For Henry Cookson, founder of Cookson Adventures, the aim for the lunch was to undertake a “litmus test” on the industry. “We want to get a reading of where we are and your perception of us within the industry so we can then focus on what we want to do going forward,” he explained to the brokers in attendance.

“We want to interact; we want to work as closely as possible with all your companies. We want to be an extension of your team and that is why we’re doing this.”

Neal Bateman, head of yachts at Cookson Adventures, agreed that the main purpose was to have an “open and frank” discussion. “We want to understand how we can better improve our relationships to become a trusted partner,” he added.

Cookson Adventure's Neal Bateman

Current landscape

With a surge in interest from owners and charterers in visiting adventurous destinations and seeking more daring itineraries, there has been a significant influx of companies entering the space to elevate client experiences. Despite an understanding of the growing client demand, all participants were clear that there were areas of tension between the two parties.

“It is quite hard for charter brokers to know how they can work in collaboration,” explained Jacquie Lockhart, who is head of charter management at Camper & Nicholsons and helps to manage Octopus’ expedition programme. “At the moment, it feels like there isn’t that teamwork. I think everyone is trying to improve it but there needs to be further efforts for brokers to understand the enhancement that these companies are offering.”

Some of the attendees raised concerns that other expedition companies in the industry “cross lanes” and book charters with clients directly. “They want to basically do the business that we do and then that makes the relationship quite difficult,” said one participant. “We are hesitant to bring clients to someone that ultimately wants to be our competitor.”

It was generally agreed that  “trust issues” was one of the main areas where friction can occur. “The brokers want to have confidence that when they are working with an expedition company their clients will be properly looked after, and afterwards, should the client want further expeditions, the brokers will not be excluded,” said Tom DeBuse, charter manager at Y.CO. “For these off-the-beaten-track trips to work at their best, brokers and expedition teams really need to work hand in hand and trust one another."

One factor that was raised was that expedition companies spend prolonged periods of time with clients when hosting trips. One attendee pointed out that this results in having “highly emotional experiences with clients” in comparison to charter brokers who might have “a couple of lunches a year and a few phone calls”.

Cookson was quick to reiterate it was a “team effort”. "We’re all trying to achieve the same thing,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s about client satisfaction. A happy client will come back and that’s more business for everyone. That’s ultimately what we want."

BOAT's Katia Damborsky and Sophia Wilson with Camper & Nicholsons' Marianne Danissen and Jacqui Lockhart

Confusion around cost

As well as trust issues surrounding client loyalty, several participants also raised concerns about understanding the cost of trips. One participant used an example of a quote from an expedition company, which more than doubled after a charter client had committed to the trip.

Mark Duncan, director of marketing and business development at Fraser, agreed that he had received feedback from the team that there was confusion around cost.When it comes to pilots, helicopters, licenses, permits, diving, all of that it was relatively clear, but when it came to the rest of it, there was confusion,” he said. “There is ambiguity around these trips being packaged up.”

Cookson explained that costs can vary greatly depending on client expectations and the bespoke nature of trips means there is an element of fluctuation. “We can’t just give you a fixed price,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that goes into it and the challenge we face is that we’re a small business with a low volume of trips.”

He also explained that the “low volume” nature of the business was one of the reasons why Cookson Adventures charges an upfront planning deposit. “We’ve only got so much bandwidth to cater for proposals,” he said. “We all know how the type of clients we look after can change their minds. We can’t afford to do dozens, sometimes hundreds of hours, of work on something that’s not going to become anything.”

12 industry experts joined the roundtable discussion

Proper preparation

Will Bishop, director of Superyacht Partners, shared his past experiences as a captain visiting remote locations. “I spent seven years in Alaska running trips for my owner," he explained. “The responsibility was on me to organise it, but I would have much rather had a company like Cookson Adventures to do it for me.

“I think the biggest challenge for a retail broker is to be briefed well enough, so that they can sell it to their clients. This requires good communication with Cookson and being able to have conversations from the start.”

Cookson agreed that the earlier expedition companies can be involved in client conversations the better, especially when it came to ensuring crew were also engaged. “It’s so important to link those expedition teams with the yacht crew so the gears fit perfectly, and they can combine together to run a really smooth trip,” said Nick Davies, managing director of Cookson Adventures.

“I think it’s vital that the three of us – the owner, the broker and Cookson – sit down in a room and have a conversation. I always say, ‘If you want to do it properly, this is what it involves. Are you going to go back to Papua New Guinea again? Probably not, so do it properly',” added Cookson.

Founder of Cookson Adventures Henry Cookson

Next generation

Most attendees agreed that demand for companies, such as Cookson Adventures, was only set to grow as younger clients enter the market. 

“None of this next generation wants to cruise the same places that their parents and grandparents did," said Kurt Fraser, CCO of Hill Robinson. "They don’t want to spend every single year in St Tropez and the South of France. They’ve done it and they want further afield, more interesting options. I think bolt-on experiences are only limited to their imaginations.”

Denison Yachting's Nicolas Fry suggested that as a result of this influx there needed to be a better understanding of remote destinations across the industry. “I think you can educate people like charter managers, but also brokers and potentially captains, on where boats can go, what they can do while they are there, and how you can help them. I think you can help us open new destinations and bring yachts to those destinations,” he explained.

IYC's Anna Granlund agreed that charter clients need a better understanding of some of the potential opportunities. “Maybe you need to create some kind of teasers to give clients the idea that there are more extraordinary experiences to be had, even if you don’t want to give all your ideas away to the competition,” she said. “They need to be interested in something to even come to you in the first place." 

Combining land and sea

Some of this next generation of travellers are also more interested in mixing activities on and off the yacht, which Cookson Aventures can also organise. Cookson used the example of Alaska, where as well as the incredible coastal activities there is also a “whole world” to explore inland. “A charter for seven days with three days inland before and after works really well,” said Cookson, “Some of our best successes we’ve had have been linking trips together for people."

Cookson added that one of his most successful trips came through working with a broker on a sabbatical for a client. “We worked together on it the whole way through and booked six charters for six weeks of the trip on different yachts. Then for the other six and a half months, we organised incredible experiences in destinations such as Bhutan, India and Japan.”

Henry Cookson with Sophia Wilson and Y.CO's Tom DeBuse


For there to be more of these successful trips, there was general agreement that there needed to be greater transparency and education.

Chris Craven, from SuperYachtsMonaco, suggested a better “understanding” between Expedition Companies and Charter Managers in terms of their mutual role in making a charter a more in-depth experience. “I’ll speak for most brokers when I say that I don’t have a detailed understanding of every remote location, for example, how much a pilot costs and what are the added costs in Alaska” he explained. “The way to move forwards would be for the expedition companies to concentrate on charter managers and captains, so that they can clearly explain to the brokers what packages are available, for us to sell to our clients.”

Marianne Danissen, group head of yacht management at Camper & Nicholsons, said charter brokers need to enhance their knowledge of what is really happening on board yachts.   “You [Cookson Adventures] have the field 'on the ground and local' knowledge that the charter broker who is selling the dream to the client is most likely not aware of." she said. "You need to spend more time educating each other and share the knowledge amongst all in the yachting community.”

Patrick Coote, managing director of Northrop & Johnson in Europe, felt that a lot of companies would be open to learning more. "I can only speak for myself, but if you want to come and meet our team and clearly articulate what can you do, what a client can do, what sort of cost is involved, and how it all works in terms of the relationship and interaction between the expedition organiser and the yacht broker, we would be delighted,” he said. 

He added that he was confident that stronger partnerships could only serve to “elevate” the experience for clients. “I think any way we can enhance the experience on board or on shore is a benefit for the client, a benefit for us, a benefit for all,” he said. 

Guided by the principle of using a yacht as a base to create unforgettable experiences, Cookson agreed. “The plan of action now is honing how we help the industry better understand how we operate, how we can benefit that organisation, and how we can help the principal and their guests to get the best experience possible,” he concluded.

Anna Granlund (IYC)
Chris Craven (SuperYachtsMonaco)
Henry Smith (Cecil Wright)
Jacqui Lockhart (Camper & Nicholsons)
Jukka Kaukonen (KK Superyachts)
Kurt Fraser (Moravia)
Marianne Danissen (Camper & Nicholsons)
Mark Duncan (Fraser)
Nicolas Fry (Denison Yachting)
Patrick Coote (Northrop & Johnson)
Tom DeBuse (Y.CO)
William Bishop (Superyacht Partners)
Henry Cookson (Cookson Adventures)
Nick Davies (Cookson Adventures)
Neal Bateman (Cookson Adventures)
Moderated by Sophia Wilson (BOAT International)