An increasing number of superyachts are being offered for sale in Bitcoin, but cryptocurrencies are also making their way into the charter market. BOAT talks to the brokerage houses currently considering charter rates in the digital currency…
Since making its way into customers’ online pockets in the early 2010s, cryptocurrency has been used for purchasing a variety of products from stocks and university tuition fees to pizzas and property. Keen to keep up with contemporary demand, yacht brokers have also been increasing options to book charter vacations using cryptocurrency. And while these types of charters are still in the minority, most brokers accept that the option opens up chartering to a wider – and often younger – new client base.
Denison Yachting was one of the first brokerage firms to introduce the concept, booking its first day charter with bitcoin in 2018. The company had been selling yachts with cryptocurrency since 2016 but it was when the company’s president, Bob Denison, was on a charter himself in 2017 that he came up with the idea of chartering with bitcoin.
“One of the first times I ever used cryptocurrency was in 2017. And that was on a yacht charter. Some friends and I chartered a few catamarans in the BVIs and at the conclusion we had that awkward conversation of figuring out who owes what,” recounts Denison.
Reluctant to disembark in Tortola for an ATM trip, a friend suggested paying his share in bitcoin, and Denison agreed to a surprisingly swift and easy transaction. “Literally on a Sunday he [immediately] sent me his portion in bitcoin,” says Denison. It was this moment that inspired him to adopt the currency within the firm.
Since adopting cryptocurrency Denison Yachting has accepted over five bitcoin transactions for sales and charter, including a charter booked on board 41.6 metre motor yacht My Toy. Fees are paid into the Denison “wallet” using blockchain payment company BitPay, and then – usually – converted into euros. The advantages of paying with cryptocurrency include greater privacy, a minimal one per cent transaction fee and speedy transfers which can take just seconds to be processed without needing a bank’s approval.
“We have a reputation for being first to market and use a lot of technologies, but it's really just about trying to take care of a client,” explains Denison. “The same year that we started accepting cryptocurrency, we also opened an account to hold deposits in 22 different currencies. So it's just an extension of that idea.” So far, only bitcoin has been used for booking charters but Denison is hoping ethereum and even dogecoin could be used soon as well.
Worldwide Boat is another broker offering charter rates in cryptocurrency. Since 2018, eight bookings have been paid for in this way, with charters booked on 39 metre Oceanfast Oculus, 38 metre Heesen Sea Axis and 40 metre Splendor Kashmir. “Overall, cryptocurrency represents 0.5% of all global wealth now. So it makes sense for to become part of this equation,” says Jason Carter, director of travel and partnerships at Worldwide Boat. Carter is confident it will become more accepted in the industry as he’s watched the value and demand of cryptocurrency “explode” over the last few years.
Like Denison Yachting, Worldwide Boat uses BitPay to facilitate transactions in both bitcoin and ethereum. In July 2021, the brokerage house even expanded its offerings by partnering with Travala, an online travel agent that connects crypto customers with yachts as well as hotels, villas and rental apartments.
Since gaining access to Travala’s existing client base, there’s been “a steady influx of charter requests,” enthuses Carter. “Last night somebody asked for a $50,000 charter in Greece, and we’ve had ones that are seven figures. So it's definitely a healthy pipeline for us and we’ll continue with that.”
So who are the charterers paying in cryptocurrency and how do they differ from typical clients? “We're seeing a much more international presence from the requests than we are domestically here in the US,” shares Carter, adding that those clients have asked for anything from a day charter in Ibiza to the biggest boat they can buy with bitcoin. Denison has noticed a similar trend, which he found “surprising” as most of their yacht sales in cryptocurrency have come from US-based clients.
Another differentiation between cryptocurrency charter guests and those paying in cash is age. “Your traditional charter client that's 45 to 60 is not the one approving the cryptocurrency and bitcoins,” says Carter, adding that these millennial clients involved in cryptocurrency are “really new to the industry. It’s enlightening and refreshing to see that they haven't charted before. Your traditional High-Net-Worth-Individual has generational wealth, where they’ve experienced this type of luxury, but with bitcoin, we're introducing chartering to a whole new generation.”
Ocean Independence’s sales director Toby Maclaurin says that the firm’s decision to market a 40 metre explorer in cryptocurrency at the Monaco Yacht Show in 2017 was motivated by a desire to tap into this new client group and access all possible markets. In early 2022, the company made a further step to accept cryptocurrency on all yacht sales and charters company-wide, supported by crypto specialists Salamantex GmbH and VISTRA's blockchain and digital asset team.
“There’s new wealth that's being accrued in cryptocurrencies and we need to be able to offer a solution for these newly wealthy individuals to access yacht charter and also yachts to buy,” says Maclaurin. He adds: “we all have very high value products for sale. And in trying to sell them you want to be sure that you've left no stone unturned. Cryptocurrency is a good tool for doing that.”
Cryptocurrency charters are still only a small percentage of bookings, however, and with some brokers not having received any such requests, there’s not quite enough motivation yet to facilitate these payment types. “There's a lot of legalities with some of the transactions, especially at the amounts that we're talking about,” explains Carter. And tips are generally not accepted in cryptocurrency either, as Carter reasons: “we don't [want to] extend any burden or confusion” to captains or crew.
YPI’s charter agency partner Julia Simpson says that the “crazy” fluctuations of cryptocurrency can also make it unappealing to work with both for clients and brokers. “I think there’s a risk factor between the time of booking and the time of having a charter. If it’s last minute, then you know you're getting the value of the day, whereas for charter the rates can be paid in deposits and increments. So the time period is probably something to think about with that as well,” considers Simpson.
With that said, “if people came to us with an offer in crypto we certainly wouldn't tell them to go away,” adds Simpson. “We’ve considered pretty much every currency in the world but crypto is not on my radar yet.”
The majority of brokers have now agreed that, even if the appetite for chartering yachts with cryptocurrency is small, it is a trend that can’t be ignored and the industry will find ways to adapt. “It’s not up to brokers to say yes or no to anything – if an owner wants to buy a yacht with moondust, it’s our job to find the solutions, not to lay down the rules,” says Maclaurin.
“Money is an abstract concept anyway,” Maclaurin adds. “It only exists – euros, pounds, dollars – because we all agree it exists. So why should cryptocurrency be any different?”Read More/Can you really buy a boat with bitcoin?