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For elite travellers

Luxury yacht charter market casts off

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The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 1, 2017
January 1, 2017
Tosheena Robinson-Blair

When luxury travel is a way of life, a superyacht such as the 165 ft Moonraker, is the epitome of style. Beautifully designed, effortlessly elegant, this is a vessel that will turn heads wherever she sails. She is just one of a fleet of high- end, ultra-luxurious superyachts that you can find jostling for space at the Atlantis Marina on Paradise Island, as The Bahamas continues to build on its reputation as a premier destination for the luxury lifestyle.

With privately-owned vessels, chartered boats and show models among them, these yachts glinting in the Bahamian sun all share one thing: they don’t come cheap. Sporting an average price tag of $10 million, the superyacht is a luxury item owned by 1,512 individuals worldwide, according to Camper & Nicholsons International, a global leader in luxury yachting activities. That’s about one for every 141 ultra-high- net-worth individuals (UHNWIs). A third of the owners are billionaires.

Even for such well-heeled consumers, Moonraker is no snap purchase, commanding a price tag reflective of her exquisite looks. A floating palace that sleeps up to ten guests with room for a crew of nine, this high performance beauty from the Italian brand Mangusta will put you back a cool $45 million if you are looking to take her home.

To be termed a “superyacht,” luxury pleasure boats must be in excess of 98 ft. Professionally crewed, they can be privately owned or commercially chartered and for that kind of asking price you would expect something special. After all, owners and superyacht guests are used to a certain level of comfort and convenience. So it is par for the course that their luxury craft feature amenities that suit their privileged lifestyles: fine wine cellars, hot tubs, gyms, aromatherapy steam rooms, cinemas and a whole array of leisure accessories for the keen water sportsman, such as wave runners, seabobs and jet skis.

Market evolution
Moonraker is the latest addition to online yacht charter service Boat4ADay’s now eight-strong fleet. “There is no doubt about it, the luxury yacht charter market is growing,” says John Bruce, a superyacht captain turned entrepreneur. Bruce launched Boat4ADay, which has offices in The Bahamas and Florida, in 2014 with business partner Sean Ives. “There are definitely more people chartering vessels and they tend to be staying longer.”

For the yachting crowd the season runs from December to May, with Americans comprising the majority of travellers, followed by Canadians and Europeans. But lately, there has been an uptick in Arabs chartering yachts. “We are seeing a lot of growth in new markets, as well as from the traditional US clientele base,” Bruce adds.

Last year, Camper & Nicholsons in partnership with Wealth-X, the global authority on wealth intelligence, released a first-of-its-kind report on the world’s UHNWI and the luxury yachting sector, offering some insight into the evolving market. The State of Wealth, Luxury and Yachting 2016, focuses on the changing face of luxury. The report finds UHNWIs are younger than before and crave “rare, tailored experiences.”

Earl Miller, general manager of sports in the Ministry of Tourism (MOT) and the government’s point person on this niche market says: “The superyacht industry is unlike any other, specializing in the ultimate in luxury travel. The evolution of the luxury market over the last few years has generated a need for quality and service like never before. We have an opportunity now, given our proximity, our diversity of land and sea mass, our modern conveniences, state- of-the-art marinas…to capitalize on the lucrative market.”

The Bahamas, he adds, is well positioned to seize the largest chunk of the regional market, particularly as few Caribbean countries are competing aggressively for market share.

Many UHNWIs choose to charter, as opposed to own, a superyacht. Although money is no object, the annual maintenance cost for such a vessel is around 10 per cent of the value of the yacht itself. On average, owners spend a month or less aboard their craft. So letting their superyacht out for charter helps defray the cost of ownership.

At Boat4ADay, the smallest luxury craft, Carbon, a 55 ft Otam Millennium goes for $6,250 for an eight-hour day and $8,250 to overnight. Moonraker is the costliest to charter. Her eight- hour rate is $30,000. It costs $40,500 to overnight.

And that’s not the only benefit that charters bring to the local economy. According to Joseph Dargavage, Sr of Romora Bay Resort and Marina located on Harbour Island, just off the coast of Eleuthera, passengers on charters are worth twice as much to the economy as hotel patrons. “Not only are we getting the yachting guest who is paying dockage and electrical fees at a marina, but also the yacht may have eight to 10 guests on it and they are engaging in activities that pump money into the economy,” adds the hotelier, who also serves as vice president of the Association of Bahamas Marinas (ABM).

However, it is difficult to put an exact dollar figure on the industry’s worth. Presently, the Bahamas Superyacht Association and the Ministry of Tourism is working to compile statistics on the size of the local yachting and cruise industry. “We know that it is in the tens of millions,” says Miller, who is at the forefront of that effort. “The average Bahamian would not see the effect these yachts have simply because the numbers are smaller in comparison to cruise ship passengers who are more visible. But yacht passengers outspend them by far.”

Powering growth
Romora’s 50-slip marina caters to vessels ranging from 75-180 ft and, according to Dargavage, business has been good, with the boating and yachting industry nearly rebounding last year to the record highs of 2003-04.

There are several key factors underpinning growth in the boating and yacht market, says Dargavage citing the nation’s relative safety and security, a drop in fuel prices, competitively priced yacht charter fees, changes in yacht designs to allow for a shallower draft (depth) and a strong marketing push by The Bahamas.

“We used to think a 100 ft yacht was big. Now a large yacht in The Bahamas is 160-190 ft and there are a lot of them coming,” he says. “There was a fallacy held by many European captains, who help their owners decide where to cruise, that it was too shallow to yacht in The Bahamas. Although our water is shallow, technology today has provided us with such a description of the ocean bottom that yachts of 200 ft and bigger can still cruise to many parts of The Bahamas.”

The Ministry of Tourism is helping to spread the word that The Bahamas offers the ultimate yacht getaway, having a presence at international boat shows in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Palm Beach, Antigua and Monaco each year. On the sidelines of such events, Miller occasionally stages seminars educating captains, owners and yacht charter brokers on all that The Bahamas has to offer.

Captain Bruce also makes similar trips, so it was a natural fit for the MOT to partner with Boat4aDay when it came to staging the nation’s first annual Yacht and Travel Show last June.

“We want to increase the number of superyachts that come to The Bahamas and the number of charters that they run here. We have received reports from marinas that more boats are coming and staying longer,” says Miller.

Dargavage is similarly bullish about the future, noting a proliferation of relatively new marinas, such as the Bay Street Marina and the one at Albany, a 600-acre oceanside luxury resort community in southwest New Providence. “Where we are today and where we are going over the next five to 10 years in The Bahamas is astronomically positive,” he says. “The average boat or yacht when it comes into The Bahamas now stays in three marinas, with popular cruising grounds including Exuma, Eleuthera and Harbour Island, Abaco and Bimini.”

Endless possibilities
With affluent travellers combing the international market for an exotic cruising experience filled with breathtaking views, wonders beneath the waterline and unique, cultural experiences, Boat4ADay Captain Hendrik Coetzer says The Bahamas fits the bill.

His guests come to him eager to embark on an exciting sailing itinerary navigating through the gin-clear waters of this archipelagic chain. Although Coetzer captains the smaller Carbon yacht at Boat4ADay, his eight-to-10 hour excursions are among the most popular. These hits multiple destinations, particularly in the Exuma Cays, providing endless possibilities to keep even the most restless traveller engaged.

Built for speed, Carbon can travel at 55 knots max and cruises at 45. It means she gets from Nassau to Exuma in about two hours, much quicker than any of the other boats in Boat4ADay’s fleet, leaving more time for an exhilarating cruising itinerary. At Big Major Cay in Exuma, for example, guests can frolic with the incredibly popular swimming pigs. From there, Coetzer tends to take visitors to Compass Cay to dive with the sharks. From Compass Cay guests can choose to visit either Saddleback Cay (where sand banks appear out of the sea twice a day with the falling tides), or to Allen’s Cay to see the iguanas.

Lunch is served aboard the vessel, with guests free to choose whether to dine on the spacious sun deck with its lounge seating, or below deck where there’s ample seating to provide a break from the sun with room for six guests to comfortably entertain and unwind.

“Guests do love it. They are mesmerized by the colour of the water, fantastic weather conditions and the cultural diversity that The Bahamas has to offer,” says Coetzer. “We provide guests with a high-end service and the most amazing experience that we possibly can give them.”

For the connoisseurs of luxury travel, The Bahamas provides an exceptional yachting experience. “In The Bahamas we have lots of room to grow as we are still in our infancy in the yacht charter market,” says Dargavage. “With the Ministry of Tourism and local government beginning to embrace boating and yachting as a category just as important as airlines, hotels and casinos, it’s providing an opportunity for us to be in the spotlight.”

Some of the biggest lures for many UHNWIs remain the simple pleasures of privacy, freedom and flexibility that luxury yachts afford them, especially for the famous. “Celebrities are among the more high-end charters we get,” says Bruce. “They come on board for much needed privacy and we respect their wishes. So don’t bother asking, we won’t be naming any names!”

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