A new platform, Ahoy Club, hopes to make chartering easier, cost-effective and accessible to the wider market. The enterprise, developed by superyacht owner and businessman Ian Malouf, believes that through its user-friendly, efficient platform, it can lower the costs of chartering by around 20 per cent, generating a higher amount of revenue for superyacht owners and encouraging more UHNWIs to enter into the charter market.
Ellie Malouf, global account manager for Ahoy Club, spoke to SuperyachtNews ahead of the platform’s launch. She explains that herself and her family saw the ways that the market could improve its current approach to chartering a yacht. “We’ve had a lot of charter experience in the past, and we saw a lot of gaps in the industry. We really wanted – from both the charterer and owner side – to bring it all together and make something that was really more accessible to the charterers, which was easier to run and automated.”
“We’ve had a lot of charter experience in the past, and we saw a lot of gaps in the industry. We really wanted – from both the charterer and owner side – to bring it all together and make something that was really more accessible to the charterers, which was easier to run and automated.”
The platform (app and web-based) streamlines the entire charter process, as everything is completed electronically, moving away from the many paper forms that need to be completed prior to a charter trip. For Malouf, the devil is in the detail. One of the most attractive features of Ahoy Club is the comprehensive manner in which the vessels have been rated and reviewed. Malouf explains that every yacht on the platform is personally inspected by a member of the Ahoy Club’s concierge team. “It’s a really detailed inspection list, from engine noise to bed comfort. We have a star rating and check it all off,” she explains. “I think it’s great, because people can say that they know a boat really well, but we can guarantee that we see every boat that we sign up.”
Talking me through the booking process, Malouf explains the step-by-step journey of requesting a charter. “You can pick anywhere in the world, you can filter whether you want a motor or sail yacht…filter the size of the vessel. If you don’t have a specific port in mind, you just choose the region or the city, pick your date range, you choose the guest capacity, adjust the price range, then you search the yachts in real time.”
The instant access to the yachts available is one of the main selling points of the platform; owners or charter agents can update the yacht’s availability directly on Ahoy Club. After the client requests the yacht on specific days, the owner or agent has 48 hours to accept or reject the trip. ‘[Owners] know that it’s a real client because they are putting down the deposit; it’s not just an enquiry,” remarks Malouf. “Because often, you have to spend weeks following up with potential charter clients and you don’t actually know if they are really going to confirm or if they are really that interested. So, this really shows that they are committed.”
The 24/7 concierge that Ahoy Club provides can also liaise with potential clients on behalf of the owners, to ask any questions or confirm details before accepting the trip. Ahoy Club’s automation enables yacht owners to set prices for specific periods, lengthening the charter season and putting a greater amount of control back into their hands. For example, if a yacht is unexpectedly free, the owner can promote its availability to clients within the app. Other features also include a ‘YOTSWAP’, where owners can exchange their yachts, and an ‘Empty Voyage’ trip, where owners can offer shorter charters (at a discounted rate) between a port where guests are disembarking, and the next port ahead of a different guest trip.
Malouf believes that more and more people are becoming used to making large payments online, especially through a secure system. “We take a 25 per cent deposit, and then 90 days before the trip, you pay another 25 per cent, then the final 50 per cent 45 days before. But obviously, if it’s a last minute charter, we would collect the whole fee then,” she explains.
Once the charter trip has been confirmed, there is an instant messaging facility within the platform to communicate with the captain and crew. Details of the booking are accessible at any time, including the charter agreement. Malouf also highlights the comprehensive guest profile page that can be filled out and updated at any time. “If you go into the guests, you can add who is coming with you, what their name is, if they can swim, their dietary requirements, any disabilities… everything.” Further, the preferences sheet, which includes the choice of activities, cuisine, wine and more, can also be filled out directly on Ahoy Club. These forms can be completed in by all parties (and updated as many times as the guests wish) and negates the paper forms that would traditionally be written and scanned back by hand to the yacht or charter agent. The centralised automation of all the forms makes the entire process more efficient for the central agent, the yacht and the charter client.
Admitting that, at the beginning, there was some push back from the industry, Malouf has found that when the Ahoy Club team explains that the platform is designed to work with the charter agents, rather than instead of, the market has been much more receptive to the concept. “Initially, people thought we were cutting them out, but we’re not. Once we sat down and spoke to them, we have had really great feedback. We are working with brokers and we respect them. They have the knowledge, they know the owners and they know the crew, so we want to work with them.”
“Initially, people thought we were cutting them out, but we’re not. Once we sat down and spoke to them, we have had really great feedback. We are working with brokers and we respect them. They have the knowledge, they know the owners and they know the crew, so we want to work with them.”
The platform gives central agents a five per cent fee, and the Ahoy Club charges a four per cent commission and a three per cent software fee. “The industry is used to 20-25 per cent commissions,” says Malouf, “So the yachts you see on our platform are going to be for less, and that is a big thing to get used to.” Indeed, for those who have been interested in chartering a vessel, but are unsure of the best approach, Ahoy Club offers a method to explore the options out there in their own time. “There are so many clients out there who don’t know how to charter if they haven’t done it before. It’s hard to just call a broker out of the blue.”
Historically, online or app-based booking platforms for yachts have been discussed pejoratively, with traditional brokerage houses arguing that knowledge of the yachts and client relationships cannot be replicated online. Ahoy Club hopes to alleviate any of these concerns. “The management is unparalleled. It’s not an Airbnb where you just pick a room, book and everything is dropped. We support the client the whole way through, until the end of the charter with the follow-ups. We don’t stop at the booking side. We keep the clients and we make the job easy for the industry.”
In a time where almost all transactions are completed on a mobile device, and efficiency is the priority in all aspects of life, this platform will appeal to those who are interested in chartering, but are time-poor. Further, the fact that Ahoy Club is the brainchild of someone with intrinsic knowledge of the superyacht market, and a team who are dedicated to improving the charter market, Ahoy Club has the potential to be a game-changer.
Images courtesy of Ahoy Club.
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