Horses for courses and the future for yacht charters

Michael Howorth asks is the 15% commission charged by retail charter yacht brokers under threat?

Cast your mind back to the day when easyJet first splashed their website name the full-length of their aircraft using day glow orange lettering and started offering discounted fares using a self booking system. The traditional airlines were up in arms at the new upstarts and were crying out ‘foul’. What was once the world’s airline, even suggested such a ruse was customer safety might be compromised.

Now with young Turks challenging way guests book charters on superyachts, history is repeating itself with the traditional retail yacht brokers suggesting that cheaper yacht rental agencies who employ the Air-B&B style of business model are damaging and diluting the integrity of superyacht charter business.

Yet hardly a month goes by without a new company sending through a press release extoling the advantages of self selecting a yacht and booking it yourself on the Internet saving yourself a bucketful of central agent and booking agent fees. Get My Boat claims to be the world’s largest boat rental and water experience marketplace offering luxurious holidays aboard beautiful sailing and motor yachts. Click & Boat is yet another outfit offering much the same and making the same claims. There is even the Ahoy Club, an Internet yacht booking system that is funded and fronted by superyacht owner fed up with the way he is treated by the more traditionalist brokerage houses.

In much the same way as traditional carriers first complained about the budget airlines so now the large retail charter firms have voiced their opinions and disquiet. Returning to the airline analogy, it will be remembered that with Sleazyjet and Ruinair getting a toehold in the market, those traditionalists initially launched their own similar services with different names so as to cash in without diluting their brand. British Airways created their own short-lived Go, while KLM created Transavia and their sister company Air France, launched Joon. When those upstarts became jaded, the airlines threw in the towel and the rest of the story is history. BA started charging for bags, dumped free food and free seat selection. Little wonder that in 2017, the purveyors of cheap, no-frills flying accounted for 29% of all passenger traffic around the world, a figure up 10% on the previous year.

So what does the future hold for luxury yacht charter? Will Benetti set up an Air-B&B style brokerage house to rival its own brokerage at Fraser? What will MYBA or LYBRA do to stop the rot? The traditionalists believe that new boys on the block are ‘ruffling feathers’. They highlight concerns suggesting that companies not using established contracts to execute charters, could result in both the yacht owner and the charterer being unprotected if serious issues were to arise. Another concern voiced is that several Internet brokers are featuring yachts on their websites without the central agent or owner’s permission.

The way I see it, there is room for both models. If you want a holiday in a hotel but you don’t know where in the world you want to go, you should visit a travel agent. But if all you want is a cheap flight to Nice, it makes much more sense to me to check out an airline’s website and make the booking yourself. Similarly if you want a large yacht for an important family get-together, it’s best to employ a professional and knowledgeable broker to find the right boat for you at the best price. But if all you want is a Sunseeker 40 metre with a pick up and drop off in Antibes next Saturday, why on earth do you need to pay 20% more for the privilege of getting the boat’s name from a broker?