In February this year, Airbnb acquired Luxury Retreats – Bloomberg originally reported it as being a $300 million deal in cash and stock – to strengthen its presence among the wealthy clientele.

Luxury Retreats is a full-service luxury villa rentals company with more than 4,000 properties worldwide – including 1,400 castles – in over 100 locations and a 24/7 concierge service. This framework will be fully integrated into Airbnb’s business model, which already comprises a staggering three million listings on its online home-sharing platform.

According to reports, Luxury Retreats works on a 20 per cent commission – sometimes a bit more – for each rental, depending on the requirements of its high-end clientele. It’s an incredibly lucrative business – and undoubtedly, Airbnb’s oversight of this project could prove to be a complete market-changer.

So, why is it that the concept of booking an instant charter online, or through an app, is yet to reach the stratospheric heights of its land-based equivalent? 

“We’ve watched this space with particular interest, especially Yachtster,” highlighted Toby Maclaurin, sales and marketing director at Ocean Independence, of the concept introduced by Camper & Nicholsons at the 2015 Monaco Yacht Show.

Seeking to make spur-of-the-moment bookings a reality, Yachtster was introduced as an instant luxury yacht charter booking engine. The booking process comprises only a few clicks and clients can be on board in as few as two hours. But, feedback from the brokerage community is that Yachtster, like others of a similar ilk, has never seemingly taken off.

“There are just too many variables that I don’t think it’s possible to make work,” continued Maclaurin. “It would have to concentrate on filling last-minute charter vacancies, but how do you know if a charter is going to finish where originally planned? And if it is not going to, when will you know? Two days before? One day before? Or 6 hours before?”

Maclaurin highlighted several other obstacles an app or online platform would struggle to master: “How quickly can a crew re-provision and turn the boat around? How’s the weather going to affect the itinerary? Can anyone on board speak German? Are the crew as child-friendly as the guest requires?”

Currently, the only computer that can cope with minutiae such as this, is the human brain. “An app can’t say to you, ‘Actually, we can’t start in Monaco, but if you came to Antibes or Cannes, we’d be able to run the charter for you’. This is where having a broker can be a deal-maker in suggesting solutions; an app will just say yes or no.”

Supposedly, if a yacht is on standby, and the money moves fast enough, a next-day embarkation is possible, but the charter broker needs to be very sharp, have an excellent knowledge of the fleet and an excellent support team; and it’s very much a case of the stars aligning for so many boxes to be ticked in such a short period of time. 

The one overbearing question this concept faces is, do you want compromises on a half a million-euro charter? Will these clients be satisfied with 75 per cent of their ideal package? “You would end up with disappointed clients, on the wrong yacht, in the wrong area and with the wrong crew,” Maclaurin added.

“People who are spending this amount of money want and deserve a personalised service. They deserve to have our brokers running themselves ragged; making sure the right wine is there and they’ve got the berth they want in St. Tropez for Friday night.”

A lot of people thought the internet would be the death of travel agents, but people still require someone to coordinate the car hire, the flights and the villa booking, because it’s time-consuming. Charter clients are busy people and I doubt have the time to scroll through pages of preferences online, without any correspondence with a broker for assurance of their investment.

Nothing is impossible, as clichéd as that sounds. And for a smaller fleet, perhaps there is a framework that can deliver 100 per cent client satisfaction and more. But, can it consistently reach the highest level of service? I don’t believe we should be deterring the focus from delivering the ultimate holiday experience and meeting and exceeding the needs of charterers, down to the finest details, which I believe you need a relationship with a good broker to achieve.

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