by Jeni Bone
According to the travel industry and charter operators, chartering has well and truly become the new vacation staple for demographics as diverse as couples, groups of friends and families, capturing their imaginations with the allure of exotic locations and fleeting ownership of their own vessel.
Sail away - or power - on any one of a myriad of charters around Australia.
Joscelyn O’Keefe, Office Manager at Whitsunday Rent A Yacht says that off the back of a few bad years, with cyclones and flooding, they are experiencing strong low season bookings.
'There’s been a little bit of rain, but no wet season to speak of. We had a record November last year, with 49 bookings – the most for five years! The bookings for February and March are a lot stronger and these are our traditionally quieter months.
'We are seeing a shift away from high season, Easter, September-October and the Christmas period, which are solid but people are warming up to the idea of chartering a yacht in June and July. With the rise of comparing and booking on the internet, people are taking advantage of off-peak specials and choosing to travel out of high season, even with children. There’s more availability, choice of boats and better bargains. People are far more price conscious these days.'
WRAY runs a fleet of 22 yachts, and has been in business over 30 years. O’Keefe observes that since the GFC, it has become harder to attract investors to put their yachts in the fleet.
'Tourism has been struggling, with a downturn in Queensland and domestic tourism. The GFC halted spending at the upper end so it has become harder to get new boats in. The result of that is a slightly older fleet. Where once we turned over boats every five years, we now deal with each boat on a case by case basis since we still need the volume of boats in busy season.'
In 2013, WRAY will be focusing on the same theme as previous years, appealing to families, couples, Baby Boomers with their product, self-charter with training.
'We also work with Tourism Whitsundays and Tourism Queensland and piggy back on their campaigns and promotions. We do Sanctuary Cove and Sydney boat shows each year. We used to do a lot more, but as things move towards online, we are investing our marketing budget in listings on travel websites, sailing and holiday websites, as well as Google and Facebook ads to drive traffic to our site.'
Also based at the Whitsundays, global brand, Sunsail is working to break down the barriers to attracting non-yachties to sailing.
According to David Reid, the company conducted research in the US among its ideal demographics and found that most people didn’t understand the terms and jargon related to sailing, which impacted on their confidence to charter a boat.
'We are aiming to reduce the jargon to appeal to people new to sailing, to remove the barriers to getting on a boat. Our survey shows most people don’t know port from starboard, or the term ‘heads’, which is detrimental to chartering a boat.
'We’re aiming to make it universal in our marketing, by portraying a family-friendly product and promoting our sailing school for people to come up and try it, and inform people there’s a whole range of places around the world you can sail for as little as a few thousand a week, rather than buying your own $600,000 yacht.'
Family market is growing
Sunsail, as part of the largest travel group in the world, the Germany company TUI Marine, is proud of being able to offer a product to suit every taste.
As well as 29 yachts in the Whitsundays, Sunsail operates yachts in Europe, the US and South Pacific under various brand identities.
The Moorings is the brand name of its luxury superyacht segment, operating in Thailand, New Zealand, Tonga and Tahiti, Europe and the Caribbean.
In Europe, it runs canal boats under the brand Le Boat, which Reid says are 'massively popular'.
'They are like campervans on water. People who enjoy driving around, find a lot of enjoyment holidaying through some of the ancient canals and rivers, seeing places you wouldn’t see driving. It’s ideal for couples, families and small groups of friends. The Australian dollar is so strong, people are taking advantage of that. We realise it’s one component of the typical five to six week holiday. Whereas, when people come to the Whitsundays, their 10 day cruise makes up most of their holiday.'
Sunsail enjoys year round popularity. 'We do experience different seasons,'Reid acknowledges. 'Summer is traditionally the wet season in the Whitsundays and Europe doesn’t kick in til April. It’s a quieter period for us and we pick up in April too. But Christmas has been busy, and January and February will be quieter, then Easter busy.'
Sunsail charter catamarans are to be included in the Cruising Divisions at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week 2011
Sunsail appeals to a broad market, and with the recent introduction of flotilla sailing – unique in the region – the company is hoping to attract families and groups of friends, with a skipper and hostess to accompany.
'We attract a good variation,' continues Reid, referring to the Sunsail client base. 'Over Christmas, we had families from the US as well as many people from southern states. In Europe, our brokers do rallies in the Med, which appeals to the retiree market.'
In 2013, Sunsail has its sights set on capturing new markets. 'We are looking outside the box, targeting new sailors, emphasising our ability to conduct sailing classes to demystify sailing and make it more accessible.'
Locally, Sunsail will be reinforcing the theme of sailing the beautiful Whitsundays, aiming to lure the domestic market to Queensland with the assurance that you can do more locally, spend less time in transit and enjoy more of your holiday.
'Sailing is currently at the forefront as a sport and recreational activity,'says Reid, referring to its success at the London Olympics. 'We will be telling people that they can charter a beautiful yacht for a week for $4,000, with none of the hassle or expense of ownership, and not have to buy one for $600,000.'
At the upper end of the spectrum, Captain Richard Morris of Superyachts Australia says chartering Australia-wide is booming.
Captain Richard Morris - Gulf Craft
'We are having the best summer ever – for about 10 years. Both local and international clients have now discovered Australia offers great chartering experiences, now with the recent addition of high quality yachts, we now meet the standard they expect.'
Morris is the Australian representative of Gulf Craft, and he says that based on the volume of enquiry, he could have done around half a million dollars worth of charters if he’d had an 88ft Gulf Craft. 'We are working towards that now. It would have been so busy. It would be an amazing example of how a charter boat would work. We would take it north in the winter.'
The acquisition cost of a Gulf Craft that size is about $4.5m landed in Melbourne, in survey, ready to go. 'I am close to closing a deal on a larger vessel for a private client who will then put it in charter,' adds Morris.
The benefits are compelling. All expenses of corporate yacht ownership are claimable, meaning the yacht delivers an approximate 50% reduction in running costs. Plus, your vessel is not just lying idle. 'It’s a well-managed, well-maintained yacht, we’re paid to worry about it. The owner can use it at any time and we make sure it’s prepared when they want to use it.'
Based in the UAE, Gulf Craft, Morris explains, builds all its yachts to survey, compared to other luxury brands which may offer it as a massive optional extra.
'Gulf Craft has just hired another 300 staff, the only yard in the world expanding at such a rate.'
According to Morris, Melbourne is a 'sleeping giant' for private clients and corporate charters.
'It’s a city of 4.5 million. There are many, many people who just want to get on the water on a luxury charter. Melbourne might not be blessed with beautiful cruising grounds, but that doesn’t diminish the desire for luxury yachting. Celebrities, corporate clients and affluent people are looking for top-level experiences.'
For locals, luxury charters offer the experience of opulence to celebrate an occasion, a corporate Christmas party, family event, week away. 'It’s a great show, makes a statement,' says Morris. 'If you charter for a week, you can travel and explore various places. You’re treated as the owner, then you walk off and that’s where the expense ends.'
But he explains, most suepryacht charter clients are visitors to Australia and 'want to enjoy the waterways we’re famous for'. 'They are seasoned charterers and we can now offer them a selection of high quality yachts.'
Industry body, Superyacht Australia, of which Morris is a director, has been proactive at international yacht shows, promoting Australia as a destination as well as lobbying government at all levels to make the process of chartering easier.
'Chartering is booming and that’s a result of concerted marketing efforts,' he states. 'For the past three years, we’ve been promoting Australia to the world, forging relationships with key brokers who were amazed to learn of the new boats we have available, and they are now sending clients. And we’ve been reminding them of the options Downunder – beyond Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef.'
And it’s paying off. As Morris explains: 'To put it in to perspective, the most expensive event to charter a yacht is the Monaco F1, but now based on the success of the Sydney New Year’s Eve celebrations, a yacht on Sydney Harbour has exceeded that on a per hour basis.
'Sydney Harbour on New Year’s Eve has attained the pinnacle of desire for celebrities and international guests. For four or five hours, it can be $100,000 for a yacht in the over 35m category, including all the food, drink and staff. People are prepared to pay for it.'
NYE Sydney 2013
What the industry needs is a few more owners to place their large yachts in charter.
'The demand is there, and the customer base already. It doesn’t need to be a brand new, it can be a fantastic second hand yacht that meets the standards to achieve survey and tick all the boxes. Ideally, a 45m and 50m would be available in Australia. We could have put hundreds of thousands of dollars in business onboard this summer. In this industry, size does matter!'
In May 2013, AIMEX and Superyacht Australia will host ASMEX 2013, which will focus on the future of the marine export and superyacht industries on a national and global scale, encouraging productivity, thinking, innovation, strategies and the development of these sectors.
More at http://www.superyacht-australia.com/