Don’t procrastinate booking your holiday charter this year
By Kim Kavin
Charter broker LeAnn Morris Pliske discovered in early July that some of her favorite charter yachts were already booked for the Christmas and New Year’s charter weeks in the Caribbean. It was like she had time-warped back to 2005 or 2006, before the global economic crash, when clients had to book six months to a year in advance in order to get a top-notch yacht and crew for a winter-holiday charter in the Caribbean.
“We haven’t had to deal with this in a couple of years,” says Pliske, a retail charter broker with International Yacht Collection. “It’s the boats in the 35- to 50-meter range. That’s the heart of the business, and it took a big hit with the recession. Even last year, there were boats in that range in early December that still had Christmas available. I don’t think that’s going to be the case this year.”
Pliske and quite a few other American charter brokers say that if you have become accustomed to waiting until the last minute to book a Caribbean charter for the holidays, then you may need to rethink your strategy.
“A lot of our clients are too comfortable with the fact that they’re going to get that last-minute deal,” Pliske says. “For prime-time dates, that notion is gone. There will not be deals to be had.”
James Graham-Cloete, a charter manager with Ocean Independence, agrees—but only to a point. Ocean Independence manages the largest fleet of charter yachts in the world, and Graham-Cloete says there is indeed a slight uptick in overall demand for charter yachts in the 35- to 65-meter (115- to 213-foot) range. However, he believes that if there is an early booking trend, then experienced charterers who understand quality and want the best yachts and crews are the ones driving that trend. Not every charter yacht meets that standard, which means there should still be opportunity for procrastinators to find some kind of Caribbean deal aboard a good, if not great, charter yacht as the holidays approach.
“I believe that there is a small improvement in the market, but to say that early bookings for the holidays are once again becoming the norm is probably a little premature,” he says. “Those families that are more interested in booking the best yacht for their needs, rather than focusing purely on the best price and therefore avoiding disappointment, tend to book well in advance.”
Pliske says the yachts being snapped up early are the “go-to boats,” meaning the newer charter yachts with state-of-the-art amenities, award-winning chefs and highly professional crew. In that sense, she and Graham-Cloete agree: If you want the best charter experience for your requirements this winter, then you had better start signing contracts now.
Then again, if you’re most interested in price, you can take a chance and wait again this year—knowing that you may have to settle for a lesser charter experience than you’ve been able to snap up at the last minute during the past few winters.
“Half of our clients won’t believe us until they get caught out,” Pliske says. “They’ll want a particular boat or specific dates, and you don’t get any more prime time than Christmas and New Year’s. You’ll have to go for a B- or C-level choice. There are only so many top-quality yachts, and the go-to boats are going to be gone.”