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Charter course: 2019 trends for the charter market

5 March 2019 • Written by Kate Lardy

Far-flung destinations and a younger crowd – Kate Lardy pins down where the charter market is heading in 2019...

The world’s best-kept holiday secret is out. Yacht chartering appears to be moving mainstream, with 2018 attracting more first-timers than ever before, and 2019 off to an excellent – even record-breaking – start. “Crewed yacht charters as a vacation option are finally getting the attention they deserve,” says Cromwell Littlejohn, commercial director of the US office of Northrop & Johnson, who has witnessed this transformation over his 30 years of marketing yacht charters. Several companies call 2018 a banner year: Northrop & Johnson booked more charters than ever before; Fraser’s client bookings were up 17 per cent over 2017; and Ocean Independence reported similar growth, up 15 per cent in terms of charter income.

And if 2018 can be considered a good year, then 2019 is shaping up to be a great one, fuelled by a robust North American market, followed by Europe. The Caribbean season, which naturally wavered last year following the hurricane devastation, is showing improvement, and early interest in Mediterranean charters has been unprecedented.“We are seeing more clients booking ahead for summer 2019 – at a higher rate than in 2018,” says the charter director at Yachting Partners International, Annemarie Gathercole.

The North American charter market is leading the way in 2019.

More fun by far

As chartering becomes increasingly popular outside of traditional yachting circles, clients are getting younger; it’s a trend that is gradually changing the course of yacht charter.“We see the average age of our charter clients slowly drop every year,” says Debra Blackburn of Fraser’s Fort Lauderdale office. “We expect that trend to continue and with it a small, but important, rise in the number of charters we handle for locations outside of the better-known Mediterranean and Caribbean stomping grounds.”

“Those so-called millennials are slowly waking up to the unparalleled experience, fun and reward that can be had when spending quality time on board a private yacht with family and friends,” says Blackburn’s colleague Pierrik Devic in Fraser's Monaco office. He adds that this new generation has different requests and demands for the types of yachts they want to charter, the toys they look for and the destinations they want to explore.

Chartering is becoming increasingly popular, and its clients younger.

Brokers from all companies report that they have had more clients this past year interested in chartering in exotic locations. From the Baltic to Borneo, Antarctica to the Amazon – nowhere is off limits these days. “Clients are more adventurous and we are seeing them more willing to try new and different experiences, such as pairing a yacht with a hotel and trying off-the-beaten-track destinations,” Gathercole says.

This bold spirit is not limited to charterers alone. “Owners and clients alike seem to want to visit remote areas and experience something new,” says Molly Playfair of Camper & Nicholsons. It’s a synergistic relationship: as more owners position their yachts in unique locations, they create a wider choice for charter guests. “There are some really interesting alternative destinations on offer these days,” adds Lesley Excoffon, charter director at Burgess.

A rise in requests for explorer-style yachts naturally parallels the more far-flung destinations, says Fiona Maureso, charter director at Northrop & Johnson. Her clients are also specifying newer yachts, those with more contemporary style “and, above all, they want toys”. Brokers at Ocean Independence agree that there is an ever-increasing demand for a full complement of toys. Where jet skis were once non-negotiable, today it’s all about the inflatable aqua-playground.

Far-flung destinations such as Antarctica are becoming increasingly popular for luxury charters. Image courtesy of shutterstock

Charter toppers

Despite the definite move towards travel afar, the Mediterranean is still the single hottest charter destination for Europeans. “Generally the west and east Mediterranean remain hugely popular, with Greece seemingly a hot favourite for summer 2019. The Balearics are also a sought-after destination,” Excoffon says.

On the other side of the Atlantic, a thankfully benign 2018 hurricane season has assisted in the Caribbean’s charter rebound this winter. “It’s definitely bouncing back,” Maureso says. “Last year we sent yachts down to the Grenadines, and as a result those islands had the best season they ever had.” She thought that the interest down island would continue this Caribbean season, but instead demand is back for the old favourites of Antigua, St Barths and the BVIs. “People still prefer the Leewards,” she says.

St Barths is a favourite charter destination. Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Summer 2019’s calendar is filling up fast. “A lot of good boats already have a number of bookings for July and August,” Playfair says. Every broker we spoke to reiterated one consistent piece of advice for would-be charterers: book early. “Ideally six to seven months ahead of time,” says Anastasia Legrand, charter broker at Fraser. “There are less than 3,000 yachts in total available for charter around the world. The best of those get booked up quickly, especially for July and August.”

Early birds not only get their choice of yacht, dates and cruising area, but also a better charter experience overall. “Enquiring early offers us the possibility to present a wider choice of quality yachts and, of course, once booked, more time for the actual planning of the charter itself,” says Excoffon. This gives charterers plenty of time to organise all the finer details with their broker and captain, says Stephanie Archer of Ocean Independence. “This way does deliver the promise of a perfectly executed charter.”