It can be difficult to think of a luxury yacht charter as a business proposition. Top-deck Jacuzzis, gourmet food and wine, and pristine stretches of beaches, after all, are the kinds of things you seek out when you hope to leave the concept of “market share” behind.
Yet for the countless people who work in the worldwide charter marketplace, every weeklong booking is in fact a small piece of a global business puzzle, one that includes market share, cutthroat competition, and the laws of supply and demand. It is estimated that anywhere from 100,000 to 250,000 people vacation aboard crewed charter yachts every year, and by paying rates that run from $10,000 to upward of $1 million per week, those people represent an attractive financial pie to be divvied among the insiders with the best business plans.
David LeGrand, who leads charter-marketing operations for Fraser Yachts Worldwide, is one of those insiders, and he sees the global marketplace changing dramatically in the near future. Where others continue doing business in what has traditionally been a two-season, two-location market (summers in the Mediterranean, winters in the Caribbean), LeGrand sees a sprawling worldwide industry about to emerge. Sure, he talks about places like Croatia, a natural geographic extension of the charter market already developed in Italy and Greece, but he also talks about places like the South Pacific, China, India, Central America, and South America--where few, if any, charter brokers have considered setting foot, let alone suggested to their vacationing clients as a spot to book a yacht. And he’s talking about making Fraser Yachts Worldwide a presence in those places not in the next few decades, but in the next three to five years.
“There is no more Med, Caribbean, that’s the end of it,” he says, holding each hand out to represent the two main pieces of the existing charter market. “It’s a worldwide business. Costa Rica is catching up. Mexico is getting seriously into the legality of allowing charter. As soon as China is ready in a few years with infrastructure--hear me now--in a few years you will see us there.”
LeGrand’s comments may have been chalked up to overzealous global domination dreams had he not made them while sitting amid subtle signs all pointing in the same direction. He shared his vision with me over coffee in the skylounge of the 130-foot Hatteras Charisma at last December’s St. Maarten Charter Yacht Exhibition, which was held back-to-back with the annual industry-only charter yacht show on nearby Antigua. At both shows, which help brokers to determine which yachts and destinations they will offer people who want to book vacations, there were other insiders talking in unconnected corners about exactly what LeGrand envisions, only on a smaller scale.
Lakeshore Excursions, for instance, had put together a new booth promoting the Great Lakes as an underutilized summer charter destination. The Caribbean Yacht Brokers Association held a seminar introducing charter experts to the Grenadines, going so far as to call them “the next Virgin Islands” in the hope of growing the Caribbean marketplace. Two well-respected brokers, speaking privately on a quiet end of the dock, complained that they were in danger of losing long-time business because they could no longer find new destinations for clients tired of visiting the same locations year after year.
This article originally appeared in the October 2006 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.