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The Sky's the Limit

Charterers' expectations are on the rise

It takes a knowledgeable broker to make sure your charter experience is everything you want it to be.

Nigel Burgess, one of the largest yacht brokerages in the world, recently opened an office in Manhattan to better serve their clients in the States. I asked Alev Karagulle, director of marketing and communications for the firm, why now?

 "While our activities in Europe are rock solid and we are also involved in various emerging markets, we predict that our activities in the U.S. will adopt an increasingly important role for us over the coming years," she said.

The company already maintains an office in Fort Lauderdale (and in Europe, in London and Monaco), but according to Karagulle, "a New York office has always been part of our long-term goal." She said that the growth in demand for larger and larger yachts over the last 25 years has been "unbelievable," and that in the U.S., there has been strong growth in the last decade.

Have Americans been slower to catch on?

"No, I don't think so," replied Karagulle. Chartering has always been big in the U.S., as leisure travel is such a huge growth area. We have seen our market share in the U.S. increase with the advent of yachts becoming larger." As Nigel Burgess bills themselves as "The Large Yacht Specialists," with a focus on yachts over 130ft, this may account for their popularity.

In fact, it seems that as yachts have become larger, demand has increased. According to Karagulle, the number of yachts 50m and over, available for charter, is growing all the time. Whereas just a few years ago, a 50m yacht was considered to be exceptionally large and there were few of them, now there are about 100 yachts of 50m+ on the charter market and about 30 of these are 60m+.

"This," she said, "is obviously a very exciting development and based on the order books of most shipyards for 50m-80m yachts being full, the trend looks set to continue for the foreseeable future. Charter rates on yachts of this size have moved into a different dimension - as have the expectations of charterers."

In addition to service levels, particularly interior service levels, which have to compete with those offered by five-star world-class hotels, charterers of large yachts expect up-to-the-minute communication facilities, fitness equipment, high-tech audio visual systems, extensive DVD and CD libraries, several outdoor dining areas, deck jacuzzis, and a wide range of watersports facilities.

"The housekeeping and cuisine are expected to be seamless and of the very highest caliber," said Karagulle. "With the galloping increase in size and price of yachts, they are drawing a clientele whose requirements are more sophisticated and, potentially, more demanding than ever before. The stakes are so high that there is little room for things being less than 110% perfect at this level."

This goal can be particularly challenging depending on clients' wishes. Some of Nigel Burgess's more unusual requests range from providing belly dancers for a birthday party to shipping crates of Dom Perignon out to the South Seas, and even sourcing Häagen-Dazs ice cream from the States for a yacht anchored off Cap-Ferrat (this was before Häagen-Dazs was available in Europe). They also once received a rather bizarre request for a yacht to act as a means of transporting polo ponies!

Of course the greatest challenge for a yacht broker is making a successful match between client, crew, yacht, and destination. Karagulle says it's up to the broker to ask the majority of the questions in order to meet the charterer's expectations. "Culture vultures will be disappointed in the Caribbean," she said, "while scuba divers will not be impressed in the Mediterranean, and watersports enthusiasts will not fare well in New England. A number of cruising regions offer ‘something for everyone' and it is very much the broker's role to find the right formula."

As each charter is so uniquely customized, different questions emerge depending on the situation. Even factors such as nationality can play a role.

"For most Americans," said Karagulle, "a charter tends to go hand-in-hand with a travel experience. They do not just aim for a ‘sun and sea' vacation, but something a little more - a detour to the sites of Rome on the way down the Italian Coast or an exploration of the classical sites of Greece."

As a result, American charterers like to carefully plot out the cruising itinerary in advance. For Europeans, the cultural priority is usually much further down the list and they are happy to improvise with the cruising itinerary, if circumstances allow.

"American charterers are generally comfortable with a more ornate and elaborate interior décor than Europeans, who favor a more neutral scheme," said Karagulle, adding that "these are, of course, only broad generalizations, and there will often be crossovers with these trends which transcend nationality. On the other hand, the requirement for a top-notch crew with an excellent chef is absolutely universal."

Karagulle says first-time charterers generally choose to charter a yacht out of pure curiosity - almost by way of taking an adventure. However, a large proportion of clients who charter regularly do so because a first-class yacht with an excellent crew elevates a vacation to a level that far surpasses what any hotel, resort, or villa can offer.

The mobility aspect is key and a charter provides a constantly changing landscape always with a new discovery and experience, all within the context of high standards of comfort and luxury. In addition, the crew are trained to anticipate and deliver a service that is focused exclusively on accommodating the charterer's desires. According to Karagulle, this results in a pretty unique formula to which many people literally become addicted!

Addiction can come with a high price though, as evidenced by a Nigel Burgess charter that took place a few years ago over the course of a couple of months in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America: the basic charter fee was over US$4 million. Another client chartered a 200ft yacht to act as a support vessel to carry his personal staff and to shadow his own 300ft yacht!

Extreme examples, perhaps, but arranging trips such as this are all in a day's work for a large yacht specialist.

Information: Nigel Burgess is a full service company offering sale and purchase, operational management, new construction, and technical services, in addition to charter. Alev Karagulle can be reached at [email protected]. Nigel Burgess's New York office is located at: 3 East 63rd Street, New York, NY 10021; Tel: 212 223-0410 or e-mail: [email protected]

More Stories By Jamie Matusow

Jamie Matusow is a freelance writer based in New York. She was the long time managing editor of legendary Yacht Vacations & Charters Magazine. Jamie traveled extensively throughout Mediterranean, Caribean, and the Bahamas where she filed many of her charter stories.

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