In the red-hot luxury market, small ship cruises and private yacht charters are clear standouts.
Luxury travel is remarkably resilient, bouncing back earlier and faster than other travel sectors after crises like the Covid pandemic. How flexible? This summer Virtuoso, a consortium of luxury travel advisors, reported that 2023 sales are tracking a full 47% of 2019 sales, a record-breaking year in itself.
Two high-end vacation experiences witnessing significant growth in this hot market are private yacht charters and luxury small ship cruises.
Just ask those who sell them. Eric Goldring of Goldring Travel, a luxury specialist in Truckee, Calif., says he’s found “a lot of interest” in luxury small ship cruises.
For the ultra-elite clients of Fisher Travel, a membership-only agency in New York City, private yacht charters are the preferred cruise style, and the agency is seeing “tremendous growth” in yacht charter vacations among clients of all ages, says Vice President Dee Branciforte.
After sending two groups on private yacht charters with Croatia Via Tours Croatia this year, Tara Shaw, owner of Resfaber Travels in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, sees an opportunity to increase sales of her primarily high-end luxury yachting vacations. customer.
“Especially post-Covid, my clients are looking for something different and unique for those bucket list vacations. Seeing Croatia from a yacht and having everything taken care of is an incredible experience.” Shaw has already booked more private yacht charters for next year.
Keeping up with demand
The global yacht charter market, including both crewed and bareboat charters, is projected to expand from $6.83 billion in 2020 to $10.8 billion in 2027, according to research company Fortune Business Insights. The company expects “substantial growth” especially for the crude yacht charter sector, citing “increasing demand for superyachts and increasing engagement of cruise lines and their hybrid business models”.
One factor fueling the appeal of private yacht charters for some high-end travelers is that charter specialists such as Via Tours Croatia are upgrading and expanding their fleets to meet the demand called for by President Zvonimir Androič, with boats getting bigger and more luxurious. “A true sailing experience.” For example, many of their 18-cabin, mid-range priced mini cruisers have been modified into luxury superyachts with 11 to 15 all-suite cabins, high-end amenities and personalized service.
Production has also increased in the small yacht sector, particularly the highly anticipated, ultra-luxury Ritz-Carlton yacht collection, now expected to debut in October.
A higher-than-usual share of new expedition-style cruise ships is also in the pipeline, with 14 new expedition ships on order by 2028. Many new-generation expedition ships have lavish accommodations as well as high crew-to-guest ratios. features. Some even provide submarines for underwater exploration.
Nowadays, many small ship and yacht operators are focused on improving stability, an increasingly important selling point. For example, Ponant launched the hybrid-electric LNG-fueled Le Comandant-Charcot in 2021 and is working to develop a fully carbon-neutral vessel carrying 100 to 200 passengers.
Another sustainable option: charter a sailing yacht or book a vacation on a small inflatable boat like those offered by Windstar.
After putting travel plans on hold for the better part of two years, today’s travelers are eager to fulfill their vacation wishes. Increasingly, those desires center around culturally rich itineraries.
Travelers want intimate access to less-visited destinations, immersive custom experiences like curated wine tastings and cooking classes, as well as outdoor activities, great food and wine and, of course, personalized service.
Itineraries are key for customers booking high-end small ship cruises, Goldring says. “It’s the service, the food and the itinerary.”
“Some places are better explored from the ground and sea,” says Tauck CEO Dan Maher. He notes that smaller ships can call at smaller ports, change itineraries en route and offer intimate shore excursions, bringing guests closer to “the people, the cultures, the traditions.”
According to Androich, Via Tours Croatia offers a concierge-type approach where each charter can have a fully customized experience, and each cabin/person can choose their own experiences at each location.
Personalized amenities on Agape Rose Superyacht (12 cabins)
Private yacht charters: All that and more
Those same attractive features—flexible itineraries, access to outlying ports and exclusive shore excursions—are enhanced on private yacht charters, which offer greater itinerary flexibility and access to more secluded ports of call. Yacht charters also offer the ultimate in privacy, exclusivity and personal service, non-negotiable for some high-end clients.
Yacht charter clients also appreciate the lack of regimentation, says Elizabeth Frales, product manager at luxury operator Kerr & Downey. “There’s this feeling of, ‘Your yacht is your choice,'” “Do you want to party on your yacht? Dine under the stars? Do you want to play in the water, relax in the Jacuzzi, or explore off the beaten track?”
“Our customers really like that you don’t have to have everything planned. They can travel at their own pace, and the captains go to those secret coves, the really special places that the guidebook doesn’t tell you about. And you don’t have to go with a group of 20 on the same experience,” says Frales.
Maple Grove, Minn. Pat Potter, Europe specialist at Travel Leaders, sold her first private yacht charter to clients looking to celebrate milestone anniversaries and birthdays in Croatia this summer with a group of 20 family and friends. She is glad she did.
“My clients were over the top excited about their trip, and their guests all had a great time. They got to choose their own itinerary and see and do unique things along the way. The attentiveness of the staff was amazing.”
“I would definitely recommend a yacht charter again to luxury clients looking for a more personalized experience,” says Potter.
The Mediterranean is very popular for private yacht charters, led by destinations such as Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Italy and Spain. The Caribbean is also a longtime favorite.
Now, other yachting destinations are emerging. At Fischer Travel, Branciforte reports “an interesting number of requests” for private yacht charters to destinations associated with expedition cruises, including Antarctica, the Arctic and Greenland.
Epidemic factors: health security, time with loved ones
Amid ongoing pandemic concerns, both small ship cruises and private yacht charters appeal to travelers’ need for a sense of health security, partly by keeping them away from crowded destinations.
On private yacht charters, which drop anchor in more outlying ports, guests are even more assured of a crowd-free experience. As with villa rentals, private yachts also minimize health risks by minimizing contact with people outside of their travel group.
Yacht charters and small ship cruises also cater to the epidemic-fueled desire to spend quality time with loved ones. Both product types are suitable for multi-generational family groups. Yacht charters hold particular appeal for couples celebrating milestone anniversaries, families traveling with older children, groups of friends and business clients.
The choice of booking a private yacht charter or a scheduled small ship cruise depends on the client’s objectives. Some customers do both. “I have a client who has chartered the largest yacht, but when they’re hosting a group of girlfriends or their employees, they take them on a luxury cruise because it has more social outlets,” says Brancifort.
Repeat rates for both private yacht charters and luxury small ship cruises are very high. Tauck reports that small ship cruises are its fastest-selling and highest repeat product.
Fisher Travel’s yacht charter clients repeat year after year, Brancifort says. “It’s a very special, fantastic and special way to travel. Once people experience yacht charter, they’re really hooked.”