2020: Year in Review
07 Dec 2020
While 2020 celebrates 15 years since Peter Hürzeler and Nicholas Dean brought their extensive yachting experience together to form Ocean Independence, it will also be remembered for its unique challenges – and the positive outcomes that resulted from them. With international travel limited for much of the year, the Ocean Independence team utilised virtual forms of communication to keep in touch with owners, clients and crew. In the same way, communication within the team remained strong through weekly calls and virtual seminars, ensuring that we were able to continue to work together on a global level.
From a resilient charter market to sales success and new yacht launches, we take a look back at the highlights of 2020.
The biggest challenge facing the charter industry this year has undoubtedly been the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions. National and local lockdowns led to a shorter summer season, with increased cancellations and postponements, plus less demand, meaning charter levels dropped below the norm. The Ocean Independence team worked hard to renegotiate many bookings and successfully postponed nearly 60 charters, with most yachts adding new flexible booking addendums going forward. The increase in demand immediately post-lockdown and the resilience of the charter market have been truly remarkable to see, with the Ocean Independence team signing over 100 charter agreements in a three-week period at the end of July and beginning of August clearly showing that charterers were keen to get back out on the water. While overall charter bookings for this year will not match 2019, the rebound of the market leaves us heading towards 2021 will a very positive outlook.
Another challenge facing the yacht charter industry has been the emergence of multiple “digital-only” booking portals that have attempted to undermine traditional yacht brokers in recent years. The complexities added by COVID-19 have emphasised the importance of dealing with an experienced yacht charter broker and it has been hugely gratifying to see that Ocean Independence received virtually no referrals or enquiries from these platforms over the summer. When it really matters, charterers choose to deal with genuine brokers rather than algorithms.
After the yacht sales market experienced one of the quietest first quarters on record, sales were slowed further by travel restrictions. However, yacht owners were keen to get back on board and demand increased throughout the early summer. With the assistance of virtual viewing technologies and forward planning, the Ocean Independence team sold an extraordinary 14 yachts in very quick succession once lockdowns were eased in Europe. Despite the lack of autumn yacht shows, sales have continued at a consistent pace with 36 yachts sold by Ocean Independence year-to-date and five more under contract, leading us to predict that the final number of yacht sales will be within reach of their 2019 levels.
Looking to the future, this pandemic has perhaps accelerated a much-needed change in communication methods and business practices that will be a great benefit in years to come. As an example, the fact that clients can engage in a live virtual tour of a yacht is proving to be extremely popular, avoids a great deal of unnecessary travel and helps us to narrow down a yacht selection to those of specific interest to a buyer. In a year where social and physical distancing is one of the key messages, we have actually experienced an increase in social togetherness with our owners, clients, crew and team.
The Ocean Independence yacht management team remained busy throughout 2020, with an important focus on assisting our operational management fleet navigate new health and travel protocols in the wake of COVID-19. A key highlight of the year was the delivery of 68m Abeking & Rasmussen superyacht SOARING in April – despite the logistical challenges of COVID-19, the yacht was delivered on time to join the Ocean Independence charter and management fleets. In addition, our yacht management fleet has grown by more than 10 percent this year (and is now over 2 kilometres in length!) and we have recently welcomed two new projects – a unique 72m classic motor yacht restoration and a 42m new build supervision. Looking ahead, the yacht management team is tackling new challenges including the introduction of Cyber Risk Guidelines from the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) and the new Ship Recycling Requirements in the EU, both entering force in 2021.