Booking up: The charter forecast for 2018 | Boat International
8 Booking up: The charter forecast for 2018
A very good year

With reports of a bumper Mediterranean season and quality vessels in hot demand, Sophia Wilson talks to the charter industry to get the insider lowdown

1. A very good year

“The charter market in 2017 was the strongest market we have seen in a decade,” says Burgess charter manager Ben Harwood. It’s a statement of positivity echoed across the industry, with brokers reporting more enquiries and strong demand during the peak periods of last year. “Generally, charter clients were spending money, booking early and upgrading their trips rather than taking the cheaper options that were presented,” says Northrop & Johnson’s charter retail director John Cichanowicz. “As long as the markets continue to rally [at least in the US] and the world keeps spinning, clients are spending money and want to charter bigger, better yachts.”

Picture courtesy of / OneOcean Port Vell Barcelona

Quantity of quality

As well as strong interest, Northrop & Johnson’s Fiona Maureso has seen a growth in spend, with a focus on securing quality rather than the best discount. “Clients are back to wanting the very best that the market has to offer and they are willing to pay for it,” says Maureso, who is also president of MYBA. This shift has left some brokers struggling to source top yachts during popular periods.

“The market was very active in 2017 with generally increased bookings and a marked increase in demand, resulting in a lack of suitable available yachts during the peak periods of July and August,” says Camper & Nicholsons’ senior charter broker Susan Kidd. According to Edmiston’s senior charter broker Natalya Manoukian, the best yachts with professional crews are being booked at least six months, and sometimes up to a year, in advance. “We are already taking large bookings for the summer with strong demand for yachts 50 to 80 metres in length – this shortage of supply is my only real concern,” she adds.

Irma impact

Despite positivity about the market, especially in the Mediterranean, last year’s hurricane season had a profound impact on the Caribbean. “After a successful summer, winter saw a decline in charters booked in the Caribbean due to the destructive impact of hurricanes Irma and Jose on the islands of St Martin, the BVIs and St Barths,” says YPI’s charter director Annemarie Gathercole. “Although St Barths, a hugely popular island, has rallied and rapidly picked itself up, with many restaurants and beach bars reopened, it’s clear that clients were put off going there. This was demonstrated by the unusually high number of charter yachts advertising last-minute Christmas and New Year deals.”

While numbers were down there was also a huge amount of support from within the yachting community. “We were overwhelmed with the positive stance from owners deciding to position their yachts in the Caribbean to support and help rebuild the islands in need,” says Burgess charter broker Chris Gregory. “There was definitely a feeling of support for the region from captains, owners and clients,” adds Manoukian.

Traditional Caribbean hotspots did suffer but this meant alternative destinations were given a chance to shine. “There were more charter bookings — perhaps more than ever — for the Windward Islands, particularly from Grenada to St Lucia. This presented a great opportunity for clients to explore areas they might not have been to before; owners were willing to offer great incentives for guests to do so,” says Cichanowicz.

Additionally, the latter end of 2017 saw an increase in last-minute bookings as a result of uncertainty around the Caribbean. "While the hurricanes definitely had an impact on the winter charter season, I think the biggest thing we noticed was the timing of the inquiries," says Moran charter manager Sean Zamora. "The bulk of our inquiries this year were very last minute, however we were able to secure charters for clients."

Full steam for the Med

“All signs point to another very good year; Caribbean bookings are still coming in and there has been good flow for the Med,” says bluewater’s Jim Acher. Traditional destinations are still expected to thrive but the Adriatic is predicted to welcome a record number of charter yachts. “The Western Mediterranean remains the most popular charter destination, with most clients wanting to cruise around the South of France and Italy,” says Gathercole. “However, Croatia is becoming increasingly popular, with demand for this region increasing every year.” With better facilities in the region – two new marinas (Portonovi and Luštica Bay) are scheduled to open in Montenegro this summer – and Albania looking to get a slice of the superyacht action, this looks set to grow. “The Adriatic increases in popularity year on year with many owners now basing their yachts there for the entire summer season and yielding good results,” adds Harwood.

"Croatia will be one of the hottest markets due to tourism marketing, word of mouth and more owners wanting to visit the Dalmatian Coast," says Shannon McCoy, luxury yacht advisor at Worth Avenue Yachts.  "They have done a great job to raise awareness of their beautiful country."

Gold rush

The message to charterers is clear: don’t book last minute. “Secure your yacht early and enjoy the best choice and quality available,” advises Manoukian. The crunch time is predicted to be between June and September. “The days of booking the right yacht for the client just one or two months before are long gone. Demand for yachts has risen dramatically, quicker than they can be produced by the shipyards,” adds Gregory.

For first-time charterers, Manoukian offers a word of advice: “With the ever increasing number of clients and the limited yachts available for charter, it is important to secure your yacht early and enjoy the best choice and quality available. The best yachts with the most professional crews are generally booked between six and even 12 months in advance. Our biggest charter clients all book early and, as brokers, we take great pride in identifying and recommending yachts to make this process as easy as possible.”

"Whilst we are seeing an increasing number of clients booking up further in advance again there are many that still think that they can book last minute, particularly people newer to the market," adds Raphael Sauleau, CEO of Fraser. "However, if they want the best yachts, particularly in the 50 metre plus range, we advise them to book as early as possible, preferably six months if they want a high season booking, or they risk disappointment."

Make way for the USA

Charter client numbers are thought to have been boosted by a robust American market and stronger Russian interest. “We are seeing a slight increase in the number of charters during the shoulder season months outside of July and August, which is encouraging for owners,” said Harwood. “The American market remains by far the largest source of charterers, however we have seen a recent increase in Russian clients, after several years of decline.”

Picture courtesy of / One Island Park

Latest trends

While a plethora of toys continues to be a must for most charterers, on-board balconies and wellness offerings are starting to become more popular. "Clients are liking the balcony features on the newest yachts and also the expanded beach clubs," says Seonaid Thomas, charter broker at Burgess. "Inflatables such as slides are becoming more and more requested, while connectivity remains essential," adds Acher.

Additionally, more specific requests are creeping in, a trend that falls in line with that fact that many guests prefer to pay more for better quality boats. "Clients are becoming more interested and ‘educated’ when it comes to selecting a yacht for charter, therefore becoming more specific in the amenities they are looking for on a yacht, as well as the activities they can do on board," says Sophia Tutino, global charter business development manager at IYC. "As a result we also see more equipment being supplied for guests’ comfort. We have also seen an increase in demand for wellness charters and healthy living on yachts."

A younger age bracket of charterers is starting to become more prominent in the market, and this is set to carry on throughout 2018. "We are starting to see some younger families discover yachting," adds Zamora.

However, the evidence from 2017 is clear – charterers are obsessed with the contents of the water toy box on board. "Toys, toys and more toys,  from slides and Jet Surfs to Fly Boards," says McCoy. "There are a few toy rental companies on the scene now so we are hopeful that this will enhance the charter client’s vacation experience."

It's not just the presence of toys on board either – guests want the most up-to-date gadgets and gizmos to play with. "Clients are no longer content with the standard jet-ski and kayak," says Pierrik Devic, charter broker at Fraser. "They’re becoming more interested in the big water slides, the water playgrounds and the more high tech options like Seabobs, flyboards and hoverboards."

Seven Sins (pictured) is available for charter with YPI.

Location, Location, Location

Continuing from last year, charterers are still keen to explore less obvious destinations, which falls in line with a rising interest in experiential travel. "We are getting more inquiries for out of the ordinary locations. Places like Iceland, Norway, Central America, Galapagos, and South Pacific," says Zamora.

"We are seeing an increasing number of requests for guests to charter in South East Asia, Alaska, the Galapagos and also Antarctica," adds Jason Whiting, charter broker at Fraser. "However, there is generally not enough vessels in these more remote regions to meet the demand although more owners are starting to cruise this way as they purchase more expedition style yachts and the infrastructure improves."

Pictured: Hanse Explorer in Antarctica. Picture courtesy of Reeve Jolliffe / Eyos Expeditions


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