Yacht charter companies were quick to adapt to the new reality in 2020 and ironically the new measures have created a better experience for the customer – with much of the time-consuming handover procedure doable from your own home.
A year on and the new safety and cleaning rules have been fine-tuned and are now well-established as the norm. Chartering in 2021 has probably never been safer, with measures in place aimed to protect customers from the point of view of health and finance.
Many bases worldwide did not shut down over 2020, able to continue operating due to local conditions. For many, it was the start of the season as Covid struck, so they were well-staffed and able to adapt quickly.
Strict sanitisation and safety measures are by now well-established afloat and ashore to protect staff, visitors and locals. And in many places, bases have been busy, welcoming locals and customers from countries without travel restrictions. So bookings have continued coming in for many charter companies and when the season did open up last year, it was predictably busy, with people jumping at the chance to get afloat.
Many people decided to charter instead of launch their own boats in the UK. There were many first-time charterers, some newcomers to sailing, some more experienced, all enjoying the glory of a holiday afloat. So a year on, how is the industry looking and how are things looking for customers? We asked three leading charter experts for what we can expect if we hire a yacht in 2021.
Loïc Bonnet, founder of the world’s leading charter company, Dream Yacht Charter, says: “Now more than ever, people are looking for something new and easily accessible. We continue to lead the way, opening new sailing areas to our guests, such as Maya Riviera, Key West and St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands.
Reflecting back on 2020, Loic said: “We delivered more charters than anyone else in 2020 and adapting to the rapid change in demand for domestic tourism was key. We moved our boats to where our customers were and offered flexible options. “We have the advantage of a large fleet and wide network of bases with prominence in key markets in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Americas and the exotics.”
Loic added: “Over the course of the pandemic we added bases all around the world to help our customers sail closer to home. We expanded our fleets in Italy and France for our European customers, just as we did in the USA and Mexico . Wherever our customers can get to, we are there for them.”
Laura Bowtell, Head of Sales UK at Sunsail and The Moorings, says: “We’re really, really fortunate within the global business that we’ve been able to get customers travelling since the end of June last year, so we have been able to operate quite consistently.
“The product, obviously, lends itself pretty well to Covid in that you’re in your bubble and away from everyone else. The summer is super-busy in the UK for staycations, which is great news.
“Overseas we are waiting to see what the Government is going to be doing with the traffic light system, but we’ve got a lot of customers who are dying to go on holiday for sure. We’re open across the board and we’re operational in nearly all of our destinations now, which is really exciting. US clients can travel [as we went to press] but it’s the UK customers who have restrictions until later in the summer. But we’re hopeful that that has given some of the countries, for instance Greece and Turkey, to get their vaccine programmes underway.
“Meanwhile it’s an amazing to be chartering in the UK, especially as the weather starts getting a bit better. We’ve got flotillas going out from Portsmouth and we’re pretty heavily booked there. Get in there quick if you fancy doing a charter in the UK this year!”
Laura explained some of the booking procedures: “We are one of the few charter companies that are ABTA and ATOL-bonded. What that means is that if you have a charter-only booking or a flight-included package then you are probably financially protected.
“That’s been a positive for us because it means that even if the worst was to happen to us as a business, customers can book with confidence. We’ve become a lot more flexible with our terms and conditions. If you were to be diagnosed with Covid, you can change your holiday as you need to, but obviously the recommendation is to get robust travel insurance and we have got a really good insurance option for customers in case they do get Covid while they’re away – that’s another really important consideration. We’ve put a lot into that.
“And then when people arrive on the base, it’s very much about making sure that that, that protection continues really obviously masks are required on base, all the boats are fogged prior to charter, everything is wrapped in plastic so there’s no risk of contamination in terms of anything that touches the mouth, so that means cutlery, linen and so on, everything is completely fresh. The full health and safety policies are on our website but there are lots of measures put into place to make sure that everybody feels comfortable and is safe.
“The other big thing we’ve done is moved on all of our briefings online. Normally you’d arrive at the base and head into a room collectively with other customers to be told about the charter area. Now everything’s virtual and it’s a live session prior to UK departure, so people still have that opportunity to ask any questions as they like of the base teams.
“The engagement has been really good with that and it means that more than one person from the party can join. Usually it’s just the skipper, but now all the party can join in, so it’s been really popular.”
Like most companies, Sunsail and The Moorings have suspended their by-the-cabin option aimed at individual charterers, so as to keep within the two-households rule.
Marin Susac, Country Manager UK & USA at The GlobeSailor, says many of the Mediterraean destinations are opening up and are ready to welcome customers and that the industry has adapted well in order to welcome customers safely.
“Numerous measures have been brought in place regarding the disinfection of boats. All the boats are now air-ventilated between each charter and cleaned with proper agents. This is something that has become a standard since last year.
“Also now often the charter companies prefer that payments are done upfront, so there is less contact at the base. In the past some of the extras can be payable directly at the base, either in cash or by credit card. Now, all of this is done with most of the charter companies upfront, online.
“With some of the companies the briefing is done by video. Links are sent before departure for each boat. However, a regular check in is also possible for people who don’t feel this is sufficient.
“Onboard check-ins are done with all precautions, but many companies also send a virtual boat presentation in advance, so charterers get to know the boat even before they arrive on board, which further reduces the need for the physical contact at the base.”
So the message is that once you can get there, charter is ideal for these times: “The yacht becomes your home. If you’re going with friends, family, and a certain number of people, you are isolating. Tourism has suffered but the yacht charter segment of the market is quite lucky because people can choose to go on a boat, where they don’t even necessarily have to go to a marina very often. They can choose to spend more time in anchorages.
“Another thing to mention is about provisioning. It’s being recommended that people pre-order everything online with the local charter operator, or with yacht provisioning companies, so their groceries are delivered onboard.
“Charter companies may ask you to send all the necessary documents, like copies of your passports and crew lists, upfront and make all payments via bank transfer or online.
“With all these extra measures in place, the check-in goes much faster than before, so clients can sail out the same day, rather than spend the first night in the marina.”
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