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Yacht Charter: The Role of Your Broker During the Coronavirus Crisis

20 Apr 2020

In a situation that no one could have imagined just a short time ago, the ongoing COVID-19 global health crisis has created an exceptional amount of disruption to summer travel plans for yacht charterers worldwide. While the need for flexibility has been unavoidable, Ocean Independence charter brokers have been working tirelessly to ensure that their clients feel minimal possible impact. 

Travellers have long been encouraged to enlist the help of a professional broker when booking a yacht charter – more than just a booking agent, a good broker will assist with all aspects of planning and support, from finding you the perfect yacht to coordinating transportation, activities, dining and more.  And the coronavirus has only served to highlight that now more than ever, a broker can offer an unparalleled level of support that an online or direct booking simply cannot. From negotiating a penalty-free postponement or cancellation, to offering remote support to those that find themselves in the unfortunate situation of already being on board when charter plans are disrupted, your broker is your champion.

Ocean Independence Senior Charter Broker Rebecca Pattinson says that, although many clients had not yet booked their summer charter when the pandemic hit, she has been busy helping those who had been prepared with early bookings. “I’ve spent an enormous amount of time speaking with every single Owner and Client who had booked early and we have agreement in all cases that clients can postpone their charters without penalties, if and when we realise that is what has to happen.”

While many clients are happy to rearrange their vacations until later in the season, event charters pose an additional challenge. “From private individuals and event companies to major F1 Teams, everyone who had booked a yacht with me for the Monaco Grand Prix was suffering immeasurable loss with the event being cancelled,” says Rebecca. “Thanks to my industry experience and the reputation of Ocean Independence, I was successful in postponing or cancelling all contracts to 2021 without penalties. This was a remarkable achievement for a unique situation and just goes to show the strong moral foundation on which this industry is built. Every Owner and broker was understanding of the situation and acted in such good faith to find solutions when contractually there was no obligation to do so.  Every client has thanked me for negotiating on their behalf and we move forwards with stronger relationships and are already looking forward to Monaco F1 2021.”

Another scenario saw some charterers already on board as the number of coronavirus cases spread outside of China. “Near the beginning, I had one client who chose to return home a day early to U.S. from the Bahamas for fear he may not be allowed back in later,” says U.S. Head of Charter Daphne D’Offay, “And of course we were ready to help facilitate this change in plans.”

For those contemplating booking a charter for later in the season but unsure as to when travel restrictions will be lifted and the industry will be back running as normal, many yachts are now offering an addendum to their charter agreements offering postponement, cancellation or both. However, this will vary yacht-by-yacht and your charter broker can help you navigate any negotiations that are necessary to secure your preferred yacht with reduced risk.

“Most of my clients acknowledge that they are in a very privileged position to dream about holidays, and a luxury yacht charter is undoubtedly one of the safest environments in which to realise that dream.  For my clients booking now, I am able to negotiate special flexible terms. By acting now, they have the choice of the best yachts and a holiday to look forward to, but with complete assurance that there will be no financial loss should the charter not happen. Such booking conditions were, until now, unheard of in this industry but due to the current circumstances, owners and charterers alike are now thinking differently.”

From an Owner’s perspective, charter managers are proving just as critical in the current climate. Most yacht owners are understanding of the exceptional circumstances that the pandemic has created. They are communicating with their charter managers to create adapted agreements that offer maximum flexibility to charter clients while minimising their own financial blow – both on future charters and those already booked. 

“Some owners are very clear they do not want guests aboard any time soon, nor do the crew. Others are very open to charters as soon as the restrictions on travel and ports are lifted and will assume the best course of action in keeping everyone safe aboard with new protocols,” says D’Offay. “It has been easy for the public to generalise that all yacht owners are unaffected by this crisis however, as with other global businesses, the impact among yacht owners has been varied. Some yachts have had to let the majority of crew go, while others have kept them on full or partial pay. Some are just harder hit than others, but whatever the situation, it is my job to ensure that an Owner’s wishes and financial needs are met as much as is currently possible.”

While COVID-19 is still some way away from being past its peak in many countries, others are starting to see a positive improvement and some governments have begun to discuss the relaxation of strict lockdown rules. Nobody can say for sure what this means for the summer 2020 charter season, but charter brokers and managers are staying on top of all developments, in order to best advise clients and owners on potential locations and timings. One thing is certain – the yachting industry is coming together to ensure that we all get back to sunny days on board as soon as possible.

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