It first began with taxis. Then it happened with hotels. And now it’s the turn of superyachts. A smartphone charter app that offers speed and convenience at the best possible price. Sounds good, right? Philippe Bacou, founder of digital yacht charter platform YOTHA certainly thinks so, and believes that by making chartering easier, YOTHA “opens the way for the digital transformation of the luxury yachting industry.”
The aim is to make yacht chartering faster, simpler and more straightforward. Visitors start by taking 360-degree virtual tours and browsing pictures. They then pre-select a yacht, negotiate the charter price directly with the owner or their agent, and complete the reservation with an online transaction. Guests even benefit from YOTHA’s luxury concierge partner, Quintessentially. It all sounds simple enough.
But, the reason why yacht charter platforms can’t compete with traditional superyacht brokerage houses comes down to “simple economics,” says Jim Evans, managing director of boutique firm SuperYachtsMonaco. “If a company is offering the handle of yacht charters at a vastly reduced commission rate, then they are operating on the slimmest of profit margins and cannot offer the kind of comprehensive customer service that is required,” he says.
Face-to-face client service is king in the world of superyachts, not to mention brokers’ in-depth knowledge of the yacht, its crew and their reputation. It’s this fully bespoke tailoring of a yacht to a client’s exacting requirements that has justified the standard industry commissions of 15 percent to the broker and an additional 5 percent to the central agent, compared to YOTHA’s reduced commission of 8 percent if a yacht is booked directly through the platform, or 4 percent if the booking is made through a broker.
However, while it’s easy to understand that hailing a $10 taxi ride with Uber is not comparable to a booking a $500,000 yacht charter on your iPhone, there is certainly an argument to be made for revolutionizing the methods of traditional superyacht brokerage houses—or, in fact, uniting the two. Dubbed the “Airbnb for boats,” new charter platform Borrow A Boat teamed up with central agency Ocean Independence in June 2019 to launch its sub-brand Borrow A Boat Plus. The move means that Ocean Independence’s 100-strong fleet of luxury superyachts is now available for charter through Borrow A Boat Plus around the world, alongside the platform’s existing portfolio of 17,000 vessels.
Head of sales and marketing at Ocean Independence, Toby Maclaurin believes that working alongside a technology leader such as Borrow A Boat, whilst still retaining expert advice, diverse knowledge and financial security brings the most benefit to the consumer, and says “embracing technology” and reaching a “wider, younger audience whilst delivering a top-level service” is proving a successful combination. He adds: “We view this as an innovative approach to development and progression within the charter market.”
A flexible and accessible approach that embraces a new generation of digitally minded charterers does seem to be the preferred method, and with 236 years of history and experience under its belt Camper & Nicholsons, the oldest superyacht brokerage firm out there, is aiming to do just that. “We want to give the company a future as long as our past,” says Paolo Casani, C&N’s chief executive, and by that he means taking the technology behind digital charter platforms, and using it to strengthen the C&N brand.
In early June 2019, C&N announced a technology merger with Hong Kong-based NowBoat. “We interpreted the changes in the market and tried to organize the company with new tools and a new strategy to approach the market without losing our experience, human contact and human touch,” Casani says. “We are not looking to replace the experience of our brokers, but to enrich and improve the tools that they work with.”
By taking NowBoat’s digital know-how in-house, C&N is using it to create an advanced platform that will distill yacht intelligence (including fuel usage, marina logs, staff profiles, and search history), speed up operations, improve the process of new enquiries, and to get in touch with a new generation of owners. Importantly, its focus is on furthering the digital experience for both clients and brokers.
Giovanni Alessi, NowBoat founder and now C&N chief information technology officer, says the market is “demanding a digital revolution.” He believes that a digital approach will be essential to reach younger yacht buyers and charterers. “We know that the new generation of owners and charterers approach a charter or yacht manager through new devices—and our older clients like to have all the information that they require in one easy to access place,” he says. “So, if brokerage houses want to survive through the digital era, they need to have a strategy for the digital world.” For Alessi, a big part of that strategy is hiring digitally savvy people who can competently integrate new technology as it comes to the market: “This means developing and delivering solutions for both our clients and our team.”