Attracting owners and retaining them has long been the aim of the industry but it is arguable that retaining owners has been less successful of late. The Superyacht Owner talks to one industry insider about why he feels that all too often this comes down to crew becoming detached from what their job is all about: providing the owner with a unique and unforgettable personal experience.
Some may say the two best days of yacht ownership are the day you buy it and the day you sell it. On the basis of current market reports, there are a number of people who are experiencing neither joyful day. The events of 2008 and subsequent market shifts have been blamed for the somewhat depressed state that the industry finds itself in. Market reports describe it as ‘in stasis’. But if the best days of ownership are the first and last, it seems to me that, as an industry, we are not doing a very good job of looking after the owners.
I have two friends who embraced sailing superyacht ownership with zest, enthusiasm and passion, but within two years they had both sold the yachts. Yet remarkably they still have a passion for sailing. Though while one bought a smaller classic yacht that he can sail with his mates, the other remains sufficiently tarnished by the experience that he assiduously refuses to commit to another boat.
The friend who refuses to buy another yacht can cite with accuracy the moment when he decided to sell his boat. He was ashore with his family in the Caribbean and had decided to return to the yacht. He boarded the tender and a crew member radioed back to the boat: “The charterers are ready to return to the yacht.” That was it; in nine words his dream was shattered. As he said to me later: “I know the boat was owned by a company, but it was my boat, my passion, yet as far as the crew were concerned I was a client.”
Shortly afterwards he sold the boat and the industry lost one of its more recent converts. This is not about berating crew; rather to say that I think the growing pains of a relatively young industry have detached some crew from providing a great experience for the owner. Now I accept that on some yachts, the owner/crew interface is limited if not non-existent, but that tends to be on the larger vessels, so there is still plenty of scope for engagement and enthusiasm on smaller yachts. I know of one potential owner who is excited about his prospective new build but has already declared his intention to sell the yacht soon after completion, because in his view, finding a good crew is unlikely. I hope that he will be proved wrong but the mere fact that he airs his concern is worrying.
By way of comparison for relative user experience, I would draw your attention to how the classic car industry has fared in recent times. For some, the mere ownership and display of a fine motor car is the apogee of enjoyment. For others, it is a more visceral experience that is desired, taking a famous and often extremely valuable racing car and pitting one’s skills against other similarly minded drivers at events in the knowledge that one slip could have dire consequences. Whether poseurs, polishers or racers they are all after an experience. Both arenas are a discretionary spend, driven by passion. And the need for yachting to deliver an exceptional experience is all the more important, particularly since enjoyment would go a long way to compensating the owner for the fiscal burden of ownership. Certainly in the historic racing world the preparers (the crew) know how to look after the owner/driver. The key element of the experience is that on track, the drivers and teams are one, they rely upon each other, one cannot do without the other and, regardless of who is paying, this creates a bond. Success brings rich reward; failure, a sense of team culpability and the need to work together to improve.
It is this bond, this camaraderie, that I think has lapsed and it is essential that it is restored. The owner is viewed as a cash cow destined to provide for all, forgetting that his or her passion for the experience should be matched by a passion for his or her crew to deliver. I am not saying that this is a malaise across the industry, rather I think it is a sporadic problem that taints the perception of the majority of very hard-working, keen crew. As is the case with any minority problem, it is incumbent on the majority to root out the cause and resolve it.
The full story can be found in Issue 9 of The Superyacht Owner, which can be found online here. To become a member and request a copy of the magazine, click here.