How To Hop
I saw about 300 charter yachts in 2007. Most of them I toured at boat shows at a pace of at least ten yachts a day. My stack of collected brochures from last year alone is more than three-feet tall. And it sits in my office next to similar-size stacks from years past.
That's a lot of boats to try to remember, and I'd be lying if I told you they all stay at the top of mind for long. The truth is, there are a dozen or so yachts that I would say I remember well, yachts whose names roll off my tongue when somebody asks me if I've seen any good charter boats lately.
In this sense, I am very much like the world's most diligent charter brokers—the people who can make or break your boat when it comes to getting bookings. When a potential charter client asks a broker which yacht he or she recommends, you want yours to be one of the first mentioned, one of the dozen or so that leave the most lasting impression at charter boat shows.
Having a nice yacht is not going to put you in that league. Yours will literally be one among hundreds. Having a nice yacht with a good crew isn't enough, either. For every yacht I tour, I meet at least two or three eager crewmembers. That's nearly a thousand people a year.
The truth is that the yachts and crews I remember, and that most brokers remember, are those that choose to participate—and then stand out—in the roving cocktail parties known as boat-show yacht hops. They put up decorations along with a few other boats in the show and together host an evening event complete with music, costumes, and food.
"It's not just throwing a party and feeding brokers and getting them drunk," explains Jennifer Saia, president of The Sacks Group Yachting Professionals, which regularly hosts successful yacht hops. "They want to see the yacht and crew perform. They want to see what their clients are going to see. It sticks in their mind. It's like branding."
There were about 30 boats at the recent Sint Maarten charter show, and each of the ones I remember most clearly took part in the yacht hop that The Sacks Group threw in conjunction with International Yacht Collection. I vividly recall the dancing girls onboard the 115-foot Harmony, the costume-clad captain serving hors d'oeuvres onboard the 125-foot Milk and Honey, and the spa theme—complete with massages—that the crew put together onboard the 146-foot Balaju.
These yachts were not necessarily any nicer than the other charter yachts in the show. But their crews made the effort to put on memorable performances at the yacht hop, and so in my mind—and in the minds of all the brokers who attended—they stood out on the docks. On several of the yachts, brokers lingered for hours, they were so impressed.
"It does translate into actual dollars, into actual charter bookings," says Mark Armstrong, the public relations director for International Yacht Collection. "One that we did with a treasure hunt designed for families, that translated into a booking. How much does it cost to put on a party and get a few props? You book one charter, and bang, you've gotten more than your money's worth. To have somebody remember your boat, the captain, the crew, whatever it may be—it's all about that."
Participating in a yacht hop can—but doesn't have to—cost the owner a fortune. Saia says spending $20 a head is a good minimum, since it's difficult to provide decent hors d'oeuvres and an open bar for less. You can increase that amount well into the stratosphere depending on what kind of impression you want to make, say by incorporating a band, a disc jockey, more impressive food, or some other entertainment. With costumes, props, and even raffle giveaways, you can easily spend thousands of dollars.
But again, you don't have to. You can sometimes make an excellent impression simply by having a creative crew.
"You can do a lot with props," Saia explains. "You can go out there and cut flora and fauna off the local terrain and do a beautiful Caribbean theme with great music and nice hors d'oeuvres served by a crew with rasta hats on. It doesn't take a lot."
By the same token, it does take a level of commitment to doing your chosen theme well. Bad performances by crews at yacht hops are just as memorable as good ones, and you don't want brokers walking away thinking their clients will have a less-than-stellar time onboard your yacht. Believe me, I remember the fresh-from-the-freezer hors d'oeuvres just as much as I do the homemade gourmet variety. And it all goes toward my impression of each yacht.
These hops are a marketing opportunity, pure and simple. It's a case of doing it right or not doing it at all. "If you do nothing, if you haven't decorated or made an effort, it can have a negative impact," Saia says. "On the other hand, there's always one boat that tends to be the most popular at the end of the night."
And, more important, for months to come.
Five Tips For Success
Jennifer Saia, president of The Sacks Group Yachting Professionals, and Mark Armstrong, public-relations director for International Yacht Collection, offer the following five tips for helping your boat make a good impression at a yacht hop:
1. Be aware of how your yacht's theme fits with the rest of the participating boats, so that you'll stand out instead of blending in. "It's important to know which boats are doing what and try to balance the themes as much as possible," Armstrong says. "People go to one boat and have a wild time, and then they want to go to another boat and sit down and chat. So be aware of the hop itself as an entity, and not just your own boat and what you're doing."
2. Take the party all the way down, and beyond, the end of your passarelle. "We end up getting a band on the dock, so that helps to create the flow," Saia says. "If there's something going on along the dock, it keeps people moving. That's where the energy comes from."
3. Give your crew the budget and support staff they need to perform. "Try to be aware of, and get with the organizers, to understand how many brokers are likely to attend," Armstrong says. "If you know you have 300 brokers coming, be aware and ready. You will need to keep up."
4. Be creative when choosing your boat's theme for the evening. "Do something different than what you've seen other people do," Saia says. "Don't copy. Be unique."
5. Get a marketing expert to help with your planning. "The captain, chief stewardess, and chef can brainstorm ideas with the charter managers," Saia says. "We know what works and what doesn't work." —K.K.
This article originally appeared in the May 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.