The charter industry is set to bounce back from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with enquiries ramping up ahead of the summer season. Charter brokers from multiple brokerage houses report a renewed appetite to travel and positivity for the season ahead. “Our clients cannot wait to get back on the water and be on holiday with their families who they haven’t seen for months,” says Louise Bunce, charter broker at Ocean Independence. Many feel more confident to travel, with restrictions easing, the vaccine rollout progressing and a greater understanding of the virus.
However, brokers report that continued travel restrictions are creating a sense of “limbo”, with many clients reluctant to commit and book charters. “We have a lot of enquiries looking at options for the summer but they’re a little bit hesitant to press the button and book,” says Burgess charter broker Chris Gregory. Camper & Nicholsons senior charter broker Marta Iglesias agrees, “travel bans currently in place, especially for non-European clients, make it very complicated for some clients to make final decisions.”
However, brokers are keen to stress that clients should take the plunge, warning that a lack of availability this season is already looming on the horizon. “Enquiries are higher than we originally expected,” adds Iglesias, “I have no doubt that we will see a lack of supply for the demand closer to the summer.”
Last year’s postponed charters, which have been rearranged for this summer, will add to the demand, adds Gregory. “There are a lot of postponements from last year, so I think the biggest problem we’ll gave this summer is finding availability.”
Many brokers pointed to the postponement addendums, which were added to charter contracts during the pandemic last year. This addendum, which allows clients to rearrange their charter should it be disrupted by COVID, should give clients peace of mind, Gregory says. “Clients understand that if they can’t go this year, they can push it back to next year.” Senior charter broker at Imperial, Ekaterina Pavlova, also encouraged clients to take the plunge. “If you want a good slot, a good yacht and a good location then you have to book now,” she says.
Charter brokers are also dealing with additional demand from first-time charters attracted to the freedom and safety of chartering a yacht. It comes after sales brokers reported record-breaking yacht sales in 2020, a trend that is continuing in 2021. “We are receiving requests from new clients who have never chartered,” says Iglesias. “That shows that more qualified clients who never considered a vacation at sea are now looking for that exclusive getaway.”
Fraser Yachts charter broker Frances Edgeworth adds: “The yacht sales sector was very successful last year because people obviously want to be on their own boat. Now charter is growing because people do realise this is a fantastic way to travel.”
An appetite for exploring unusual destinations is another change Pavlova has noticed. There is an increase in clients steering away from the traditional cruising grounds of the Mediterranean in the summer and Caribbean in the winter and requesting charters in locations such as Antarctica and Norway. “We have more enquiries for unique destinations as a lot of clients want to do something new,” Pavlova says. Clients are also opting to stay on board for longer. “The average charter period for this year is one month,” says Pavlova. “Previously it was between a week to 10 days.”
This year’s season is already in stark contrast to the disarray of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic played havoc with bookings and travel plans. “This time last year, there was a lot of unravelling going on,” says Gregory. “The Monaco Grand Prix has just been cancelled and we were undoing contracts.” Edgeworth agrees. “Everyone is feeling a lot more positive in April 2021 than April 2020,” she says. “There was reluctance to travel and that has definitely changed. People are a lot more aware of what this virus is and how they can protect themselves.”
All charter yachts now have stringent health and safety measures in place to help combat coronavirus. Constant cleaning and disinfecting of the yacht, frequent PCR tests for guests and crew and the limiting of crews going ashore are just some of the measures reported by brokers.
The result is that clients are feeling more assured about stepping on board and opting for crews, who have already tested negative, to work without wearing PPE such as gloves and masks. “We’re really going by what the guests are asking for,” says Bunce. “Once they’ve done the initial testing and the crew have disinfected the boat, the guests are pretty relaxed.” Gregory agrees, “I haven’t had any clients asking for the crew to wear PPE,” he says. “Generally, people who are going on charter want to feel as normal as possible.”