The third webinar in Camper & Nicholsons International’s ‘CNI:INCandid Conversation’ series explores what the 2020 summer charter season and luxury travel market will look like after the COVID-19 crisis. Yesterday, The Superyacht Group’s Martin Redmayne chaired a debate on what could happen this summer and beyond, if the charter market stays focused, positive and organised. Taking part in the discussion was Sacha Williams, charter marketing director at Camper & Nicholsons, Adam Neaves, charter sales manager at Gama Aviation and Christophe Aldunate, owner’s representative of 47m M/Y Anados and luxury hotel expert from the Woodrow Collection.

The panel agrees that 15 June is a key date for the charter market, with many European governments planning to ease lockdown and travel restrictions from this time. “The market is positive,” says Redmayne. “But what can the industry actually deliver to the clients that would like to get back on board as soon as possible?”

While much will be driven by how clients get to the vessel and what restrictions are in place in the vessel’s location, Williams reports a positive level of interest. “Fortunately, there haven’t been as many cancellations as we anticipated, and we’ve managed to postpone most business,” she explains. “In the last week, we have finally seen enquiries picking up again and some bookings as well.”

“Fortunately, there haven’t been as many cancellations as we anticipated, and we’ve managed to postpone most business. In the last week, we have finally seen enquiries picking up again and some bookings as well.”

Adding that bookings are still far from what would be normal for this time of year, Williams anticipates that the number of bookings will increase from late June and July, and the industry may see a longer season going into mid-October in the Mediterranean. One positive impact of the pandemic for the charter market is that many of the yachts now have large windows of availability, which is enabling clients to book longer charters than they normally would be able to at this time of year.

Williams also hopes that the Caribbean 2020/21 season will be stronger than previous years. “Many owners will be wanting to recover some of the losses they may have felt over this time,” she adds. “Also, charterers may be waiting until things settle down and take their long holiday in the winter months. So, the Caribbean could have an excellent season this winter.”

From a private jet perspective, Neaves is also expecting a boom in demand later this month, and this is why clients should start planning as soon as possible. “What passengers need to understand is that it’s going to take a while to get back to normal in terms of the responsiveness we can offer,” he advises. “There are still restrictions in place and, therefore, we need more time and notification in order to organise these flights.” 

Neaves cites the example of France, where for the last month the company has needed 24 hours to set up flights with customs. Furthermore, additional protocols and logistics will be needed for certain destinations. For example, some countries are requiring COVID-19 tests to be done for all crew and passengers, with the results to be sent and validated before travel permission is granted.

There will also be additional measures that charter yachts will have to consider before welcoming guests on board this summer. “The expectation is that, if there is one place that you can be safe, it’s on a yacht,” comments Aldunate. “If we organise ourselves, guests can be protected and we can prevent them from being in contact with anyone outside of the yacht. We are putting a lot of protocols in place that will guarantee our guest’s safety – there are many ways to control the chain of service.”

One of the most important additional measures being implemented across the charter industry is a change to the number of changeover days allowed for between trips. Williams reports that the turnaround time on some yachts has been increased to between three-to-five days in order to properly deep clean and disinfect the yachts for new guests. However, the protocols for crew and guest interaction in a COVID-19 world are still unclear.

“The best possible practices on board will be adhering to all the guidelines that we are all already following: distancing, regular hand washing, and really focusing on the pre-cleaning of the yacht.”

“The best possible practices on board will be adhering to all the guidelines that we are all already following: distancing, regular hand washing, and really focusing on the pre-cleaning of the yacht,” explains Williams. “There are also some recommendations for distancing on board, for example, for guests not to share cabins if they are not from the same household. Camper and Nicholsons has produced a very comprehensive document for all of its yachts under management that covers these guidelines.”

In terms of what the supply and demand dynamic will be for the summer, Neaves expects to see increased interest in travel that enables social distancing. “We are receiving enquiries from more people that have never used jets before,” he says. “Now people are not prepared to go through big commercial airports and airlines, even if its business or first class. Instead, they prefer to isolate their family on a jet and get to their destination more efficiently and in a more hygienic environment.” 

Williams does not think that supply and demand for the charter market will be significantly disrupted. “At the start of the outbreak, a few yachts made the decision to sit the summer out,” she explains. “So, there may be slightly less yachts available but there will also be slightly less clients, due to many people preferring not to travel during this period. However, many people will be considering yachts for hygiene reasons. While nowhere is zero-risk, I think a yacht is the closest you are going to get to a sterile and clean environment, where the crew will be respecting the strictest protocols.”

“While nowhere is zero-risk, I think a yacht is the closest you are going to get to a sterile and clean environment, where the crew will be respecting the strictest protocols.”

It is still difficult to predict where the most popular charter destination will be this summer. “It’s complicated because a lot of our biggest markets are unable to get to the countries that are now opening up for charter,” explains Williams. “The U.S. is a big market for us, for example, but it will likely be some time before Americans will be allowed into Europe.”

As a result, Williams expects that the majority of charters will not necessarily be taking place in the Mediterranean this summer; “I think we will see a very different split, with yachts that have decided to linger longer in Asia, Australia, the Caribbean and New England. In terms of destinations, we are going to see a spread depending on where clients can travel. The encouraging thing is that the desire is still very much there, so as long as people still want to charter, we will figure it out.”

Overall, the panel agreed that the charter market has an important opportunity this summer to reinforce the unparalleled level of safety, privacy, hygiene and service that yachts can deliver. “With less shore-based activities available, more of the charter is going to be centred around the yacht, and so the yacht and crew can really come into their own and have more opportunities to shine,” concludes Williams. “The guests are going to have a far superior experience on board than they would have in any shore-side venue.”

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