I remember speaking at The Superyacht Forum and discussing a clear forecast for the industry, based on what I referred to as my ‘20/20 Vision’. Unfortunately, no amount of foresight could have prepared us for the COVID-19 freight train heading down the tunnel.
So, to put it mildly, for many across the world, 2020 has been one of the most challenging years in our planet’s history - massively disruptive, hugely expensive and medically damaging to the population. However, it is important to try and take a positive view of the year.
What are the positives?
From a superyacht perspective, I suppose it’s worth highlighting that many of the world’s ultra-high-net-worth clients have, in fact, seen their wealth increase across many sectors (Caveat – obviously, some have not!).
In addition, there have been many instances where these clients have recognised a new value proposition to yacht ownership, with the yacht becoming a secure safe haven and health bubble for their family. This has been supported by the various announcements through the year from yacht brokers seeing healthy sales performance and transactions taking place remotely.
It has obviously had some impact on the new-build sector, but due to the resilience and teamwork of many of the yards, they seem to have weathered the storm relatively well, with shifts in working arrangements and production being managed intelligently. Yes, we will see the delays in deliveries across the sector. But in many cases, these will be speculative projects being slowed down or projects being slowed in agreement with the client.
We have also seen a change in mindset when it comes to the importance of our market flying across the world to be everywhere at any one time. The enforced travel restrictions may create a more efficient landscape, where the industry is more selective on where they go and why. We wait with bated breath to see how the market reacts to the reinvigoration of the events and show landscape, as we are already seeing calendar clashes in Q2.
The cruising season was delayed and there was a significant series of cancellations and postponement of charter contracts in 2020, for obvious reasons. However, this did two things: some yachts chose to use this year to sit in shipyards and get some work done; others, with less confident owners or managers, used it to reduce the crew numbers and go into a form of mothballing mode, with a skeleton team on board.
There are positives to be seen here too. It allowed captains to invest where possible on routine maintenance or major upgrades, providing the boss had the appetite. More importantly, the forecast for Med Season 2021 is likely to be healthy, as the delayed charter contracts and the early bookings for next year, could deliver a bumper season, which is good news for the agents, marinas and service companies, who have suffered a really challenging year.
So, what have we learned from 2020?
· That we need to look after crew, realising that they have endured a crazy year, with many losing their jobs or being mothballed or locked down on various yachts in remote locations.
· That owners and buyers are willing to buy yachts without all the expense and chaos of the old style of yacht shows.
· That our industry is flexible, resilient and strong in parts, able to adapt and pivot pretty quickly.
· That virtual meetings are part of our new world and will reduce the number of flights we need to take to sit round a table and discuss projects face to face.
· That we have, in some ways, missed the bizarre and perverse concept of visiting a major yachting hub, spending lots of money on creative exhibition stands, checking into overpriced accommodation and losing hours and hours of sleep, trying to sell our wares and out-party each other. (Caveat ii - we have already seen some announcements for yacht shows rescheduling their events for the same weeks or months. Let’s not revert back to the crazy calendar congestion: vote with your budgets and support those that make sense).
So, as 2020 ends and we all reflect on the ‘annus horribilis’, it is important to consider that we are heading into an era of strategic change. And I truly hope that we have all used this year to reflect, rethink and refresh what we are doing and will use the next couple of weeks to think clearly and carefully about the next few years.
I will be writing again before the end of the year with a 2021 vision and some predictions and ideas for the future. As a little taster, I think we are heading into a bright, exciting and dynamic era, where the world’s ultra-wealthy start to really appreciate the privacy, safety, comfort and security that a superyacht can deliver. Whether they buy, borrow, own, share, rent or charter, it doesn’t matter, we just need to make sure the myriad of floating assets out there, and the people that manage, build, design or operate them, inspire and encourage better usage and more consistent service, so our industry grows, matures and stabilises for the long-term. There are so many things we can do better.
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