A disappointing Caribbean charter season has led many yacht crew to fear that summer in the Med will be equally slow. “Last year at this time my boat had four forward bookings for the Med season.... We’ve got NOTHING this year,” read an anonymous posting on Dockwalk.com in mid-March that kicked off a Forum discussion about the “Upcoming Med Season.”
While charter industry experts agree that 2009 Med bookings are down so far, many of them are beginning to feel a cautious optimism about the summer season. “It is picking up slowly,” said Florence Xing, a charter broker with Fraser Yachts.
“If you had asked me two weeks ago, I would have been a very worried chappie,” said Stefan Wertans, director of Sunseeker Charters. “Suddenly, it really feels like it’s turning around for us,” he reported, citing a surge of charter inquiries in mid-April. “The green shoots are definitely out there.”
Two more harbingers for the coming Med season are looking better than expected as well. Dockwise Yacht Transport confirmed that its Europe-bound megayacht transport ships were full this spring. The MYBA Charter Show in Genoa, scheduled for May 4 through 8, also is fully booked with yachts that will be on display at its docks, and even has a waiting list.
Still, not all the traditional bellwethers are positive. “My biggest client for the Monaco Grand Prix is not booking a yacht at all this year,” says Tim Morley, managing director of Morley Yachts, a charter and brokerage firm based in Antibes. He reports that charter bookings for the Cannes Film Festival in mid-May are down as well.
“A lot of corporate clients are not booking at all, because if you are laying people off, you can’t be seen to be doing a lavish charter,” he says. “It’s not the time to be seen showing off, and that is beginning to affect the charter industry.”
Another recent trend that makes it difficult to forecast the health of the coming season is that clients are not booking their charter vacations as far in advance as usual. “It seems that charter clients tend to book and pay as late as they can,” says Xing.
The “buyer’s market” also is encouraging some prospective clients to ask charter yachts to come down on their weekly rates. “Their expectations are a little high where discounts are concerned,” says Wertans. “If you are after a decent quality boat, well managed, with a good crew, you have to pay.”
With new charter clients hard to come by and competition fierce, however, even the most successful charter yachts will be relying heavily on repeat business this summer. As reported in Dockwalk’s May feature story “Smarter Charters,” retaining regular clients during the economic downturn is more critical than ever.
“It is interesting that our summer calendar is all repeat clients,” said Capt. Ian Robertson of 49-meter Benetti charter yacht Jo in March. Robertson and his co-captain are vigilant about staying in touch with their former guests. “We let everyone know where we are and where the boat is,” he says.
For more tips on how to market your charter operation in the current economic climate, click on Digital Dockwalk for the current issue.