Barbara Müller, sitting in her Palma de Mallorca office in the heart of Spain’s Balearic Isles, used to be frustrated—pretty much from early spring straight through the end of autumn.
“You have no idea how often I had to turn away clients and say we don’t have 50-meter boats, we don’t have 60-meter boats, we don’t have any boats left for August,” says Müller, a charter broker and manager with Ocean Independence.
Countless clients from America, Europe and beyond wanted to be where she was, exploring the capital city’s culture and visiting the island’s Michelin-starred restaurants before cruising to neighboring Menorca’s beaches and Ibiza’s pulse-pounding discotheques. But as recently as a few years ago, the whole of the Balearics archipelago had only a few dozen licensed charter yachts 65 feet or longer. Many of them were good quality, but older. And none were superyacht length.
Oh, how things have evolved—and fast. Because of recent changes in tax rules and licensing procedures, there finally are more crewed yachts in the Balearics to meet the surging charter demand. The total number of yachts with charter licenses quadrupled from 31 in 2013 to a whopping 125 for 2016, Palma-based brokers say. Some are the same size and caliber as yachts that charter in the South of France and Italy, long the top destinations in the West Mediterranean.
In fact, a number of yachts that base in France and Italy are getting their Spanish charter licenses to be able to meet Balearics demand. Camper & Nicholsons International, for instance, has 203-foot (61.8-meter) VSY Roma now offering bookings in Spain as well as in other West Med locales. The same is true of 163-foot (49.9-meter) Benetti Platinum, which is in the Burgess fleet, along with 137-foot (41.8-meter) Holland Jachtbouw This is Us, which Ocean Independence says will charter in the Balearics during the first part of this summer before moving to Corsica, Sardinia and Southern Italy later in the season.
Such yachts are likely to see even more demand than in past years because of world events, charter managers say.
“With the political situation, the demand is now higher in Spain,” Müller says. Destinations such as Turkey have declined in popularity.
Karen Martensen at the Burgess office in Palma adds: “You never know what will happen in this world today, but the main point about the Balearics is that it’s very safe. These are islands. If someone wants to do a serious robbery or something, it’s not like the South of France. You will be caught on the next plane or the next ferry.”
Burgess is encouraging even more yacht owners to get their Spanish charter licenses, to be able to respond to increasing Balearics demand, Martensen says. Müller says Ocean Independence sees the trend continuing, too: “I think in the future, almost all the boats in the West Med will have the Spanish charter license.”
And charter clients who have visited the Balearics during the past few years are already expressing interest in returning, Martensen says. Once people see what the islands are like, they want more.
“I had Australian clients last year who, based on what they had read, wanted to do most of their charter in Ibiza,” Martensen says. “Now they say that if they come back again, they want to leave more time for Mallorca.”
One reason for the return visits is that shops, eateries and other businesses in the Balearics, particularly on Mallorca, are now catering to the high-end clients, Martensen says. Having survived the global economic crisis and, more recently, seeing the surge in charter activity, the locals are tailoring their offerings to appeal to high-net-worth vacationers—something that’s rarely true in up-and-coming destinations.
“They know these yachts are not like big cruise ships,” Martensen says. “We visited the private jet terminal in Mallorca last week, and it’s so smooth for the guests to come in. They can pass through and nobody will see them. The local people have opened up to this. I’ve lived in France. I’ve lived in Italy. Now, all these little places in the Balearics, you say, ‘Wow.’”
For charter clients visiting Spain for the first time, some brokers recommend 10- to 14-day charters that combine the Balearics with the mainland, and Barcelona in particular. The cruising time from one region to the other is about six hours, Martensen says, and yachts can make the transit overnight, while guests sleep.
From there, the itinerary can be personalized. “Every island is different,” Martensen says. “Ibiza is for the nightlife, the clubbing, seeing and being seen. Mallorca has a totally different feel. You can see a classical concert or visit a vineyard or go hiking with a beautiful view overlooking the Mediterranean. Then you go to Menorca, and it’s the most beautiful, crystal-clear water you will ever see.”
Müller agrees, and is thrilled that she can now accommodate most clients who call.
“There is something for everybody,” she says, “and now that we have these boats, people can have the boats they want instead of only the boats they can get.”
Always In Style
While demand is skyrocketing for charter in Spain’s Balearic Isles, some tried-and-true Mediterranean destinations also are expected to remain popular for this summer.
South of France
From Antibes to Saint-Tropez, it’s hard to think of a destination whose cities are more a part of yachting culture than those in the South of France. The Cannes Film Festival, held in May, remains a premier kickoff event for the entire charter season in the West Mediterranean, and the region is a mecca for yacht-spotting, with many of the world’s newest, largest and most impressive yachts calling on ports here.
The different cruising regions in Italy mean clients can return year after year and enjoy varied experiences. One summer might include anchoring off Santa Margherita and hiking part of the Cinque Terre. Another might focus on the Amalfi Coast and its postcard-worthy villages such as Positano. Central Italy includes Naples, the birthplace of pizza. The islands of Sicily and Sardinia each have their own cultures, too.
Croatia / Montenegro
Charter clients looking for quieter cruising have been looking to Croatia in recent years. Itineraries generally begin in Venice, Italy or in Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor, both destinations worth visiting unto themselves before cruising along the Croatian coastline. There, clients can explore everything from the ancient stone wall surrounding Dubrovnik to quiet harbors such as Mljet with no other yachts in sight.