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Tuesday 13th December 2011

Photo by Kevin Johnson,

It’s an interesting fact at this time of year that even though it seems that the entire world’s stock of super yachts arrives en masse at the docks in English and Falmouth Harbours, for many people the annual meeting, this year celebrating its 50th Anniversary, remains a mystery.
Organisers find themselves repeating the all too familiar words ‘It’s a private show, the general public cannot have access' and for many people on the outside, myself included, they seem strange if not a bit unfriendly given that they are in Antigua.
It’s one of the things that has driven me in 2011 to find out more about the Show and whether it’s the best kept secret that Antiguans and Barbudans are being kept out of through some kind of exclusive old boy’s network, or whether there is justification in the way that the Show is run.
To find out more, I had the pleasure of an hour on board Va Bene moored at Falmouth Harbour Marina, talking to yacht manager Captain Nick Line. Nick is also manager of Sequel P, a yacht that he oversaw the build of which was completed in 2009, while at the same time managing the refit of Va Bene which took place in the Pendennis Shipyard in Falmouth, UK. He had his work cut out for him. It also means that given the size of the tasks, Nick clearly knows his stuff.
The captain of choice if either owner is on board, anyone who knows Nick knows that his passion for the industry bubbles, occasionally at alarming temperatures, just below the surface at all times. If you cut him in two, I daresay just like a stick of English rock it would say ‘yachting industry’ right through him.
For some people Nick’s vociferous opinions can incite huge debate, and for those of us who have spent a few minutes over a light beverage, it is just these opinions that we love to debate at length with him. He is not a man to ever sit on the fence, and frankly, more people like him would be an asset to any industry.
So with that said, we got into the subject of the Antigua Charter Yacht Show. One of only two charter yacht shows in the world (differentiated from boat shows that focus on selling), comparable only to Genoa, Nick is clearly hugely supportive of the Show. On one side, the fact that he owns a home in Antigua which he built with his own hands, his love of Antigua and desire to see continued growth and improvement in the yachting industry and the obvious positive impact on the local economy is a given. Secondly the very fact that the show is private is a key reason for his support.
Nick explains, ‘Think of the yachting industry as a huge pyramid of people and companies that make a living out of that industry. It starts with the yacht crew, and just below them are the charter brokers, and then beneath them an ever-widening group of people that includes the sail makers, varnishers, engineers, painters, specialized cleaners, food and wine provisioners, car rentals companies, restaurants, bars, spas, land holders renting land and property to the aforementioned and the list goes on. However at the top of this industry there are only two entities that put money into it, the owners and the charter clients. In short, if the man at the top did not own a yacht that he chose to bring to Antigua, these businesses would have no reason to be here and they would go out of business.'
For many it’s an uncomfortable fact to face, but anyone who has tried running a business through the summer in English Harbour on a full staff and hoping to make ends meet once the mega yachts have headed back north, knows full well - like it or not - it’s a reality. Just like in the hotel sector as we have seen over the last three hard recessionary years, fewer visitors mean fewer jobs. It’s a very straightforward equation, although for some reason many people still find it difficult to do the math!
So back to the yacht owner. From Nick’s perspective, taking part in the Show is one of only two opportunities a year for him to meet as many yacht brokers as he can (we’ll come back to the brokers shortly) in a small window of time, and convince them that his yachts, his crew and the experience they can offer onboard are worthy of the broker making the decision to recommend his boat to potential charter guests.
Imagine you are selecting to stay in a hotel for two weeks, the only difference is the hotel is constantly moving, and unless you jump off, opportunities to get off and escape the people you are with are few and far between. In that situation, much of the decision you make as to the yacht you want to spend your hard earned vacation time on will come back to who the captain and crew are, and whether the yacht has the facilities you are looking for.
In the very long and arduous week just past, 300 yacht brokers, literally from around the world, have walked the docks meeting and spending time on as many yachts as they can to understand as much as possible about the yacht and crew. Is it a family boat, adults only, party boat . . .?  What toys are onboard - jet skis, a sailboat, a fishing tender?  What delicacies can the chef create on a daily basis? Is the service excellent, bad or indifferent?  In what is probably one of the most intense weeks for the crews, they are literally put under the microscope by the brokers. Nick says ‘When a broker gets on board he or she can spend an hour with you and notice things that most people would never notice but are the kind of things they know their clientele will. It’s this attention to detail that ensures the broker, like any kind of broker, will attempt to work through requirements and expectations to find the correct boat for the client.
So what of the brokers? ‘These guys know their market and they know their clients incredibly well’, says Nick. Let’s face it, when you are booking a vacation where you will make a 15% commission from your client, on charters that run into hundreds of thousands of dollars per week, you need to do your homework. Brokers often represent only a handful of clients who charter more than once a year and so the requirement to create the right partnership in terms of a boat and the clients on board is essential. They cannot afford to get it wrong. Nick says ‘The worst thing that can happen is that the client has a bad experience and decides he won’t book your yacht the next time.’ But there is worse, ‘What if because of that, the client won’t work with the broker again? And then possibly the broker won’t work with me again!’. That’s why the relationship between the yachts and the brokers is so critical and needs the space and time that they get at the Show to interact and develop rapport and understanding. That is what the Antigua Charter Yacht Show does for the industry.
Being the internet pro person that I am, of course my next question was inevitable, ‘So is there a place for a consumer show in the market where potential charterers can make contact with the boats directly and will the internet not be able to replace the broker long term?’ Nick is fairly certain that in the main both are not an option. On the subject of the consumer show, his thoughts are that albeit a great concept, how do you reach a core of consumers in one place in the world? Some of the people who charter are among of the wealthiest in the world and, as such, very much prefer to have someone they trust represent them and make recommendations. They are happy to buy in this expertise to guarantee a perfect experience. This is the broker’s job and why brokers are so essential to the market. In so far as the internet can help develop an understanding of the offerings of a boat and the personalities onboard, it can make inroads, but there is no getting away from the advantages of meeting someone one on one to determine the facts. Again this is why brokers are so important.
In round up, for Nick, he continues to endorse the Antigua Charter Yacht Show and confirms that the board and management team do a fabulous job throughout the week. Whether you a lot of charters or not, he feels it’s still important to be present at the Show, important to reaffirm to brokers that you can deliver, and that not just you and the crew, but the yacht are up to standard. It’s also an important part of the support of the industry.
Coming full circle Nick re-emphasizes that for Antigua this show is so critical on the world yachting map, but also as the reason for the yachts to choose Antigua to arrive at in the Caribbean for the season, rather than any other island, brings huge economic benefits. Now the Show is finished, we wait to see how many yachts will choose to stay on the docks until their charter guests arrive and how many will disappear.

One thing is clear, each and every one of us in Antigua and Barbuda hugely benefits from the Show.  Every dollar spent in a business circulates throughout the country. It is now our job to convince the yachts that Antigua is the place they should choose as their home port throughout the season and perhaps throughout the year. The benefits are huge. The costs of not doing our jobs properly, just like the captains, crews and brokers, are incalculable!
And in case you were wondering, oh yes, it’s most definitely worth it!

Article by Alison Sly-Adams

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