If there’s one aspect of the superyacht industry that insiders agree on, it’s that owners and guests today expect elite levels of service on board. As clients have become accustomed to their staff going beyond the call of duty in life on land, yacht crews have needed to set and consistently meet new standards. From being greeted by the yacht’s captain upon touchdown, having luggage packed and unpacked in precisely the right way and ensuring guests walk into a cabin set to a preferred temperature, staff that anticipate their guests’ every need are key to successful charters today.
Of course, every boat has a level of service, and a significant part of a crew’s job is to quickly figure out how different clients work. But it is the finer details of a client’s preferences, those that are subtler to spot, that matter now, according to broker Robert Dubsky, founder of Yachtmasters. Dubsky, who runs up to 30 charters a year on yachts of 50 metres or more, aims to provide what he calls “a 360-degree service”. If a superyacht broker knows a client well enough before he arrives on board (and Dubsky thinks they should make a point of it), all the elements for a smooth charter are prepared in advance.
The concierge industry, which began to expand with the launch of Ten Lifestyle Concierge in 1998 and Quintessentially two years later, has raised clients’ expectations across a range of leisure industries and is now impacting the charter business. A number of companies with their roots in the superyacht industry are either launching concierge membership clubs for their yacht owners and charter clients, or introducing this higher level of bespoke service as part of the contract with their clients. So what began decades ago as a service in the lobbies of the grandest hotels has today morphed into general lifestyle management, and this is flowing into luxury yachting.
Every broker has at least one story about a concierge business taking an ‘impossible’ request – and delivering. Dubsky has had a few, including parachuting a bottle of champagne from an aircraft on to a yacht for a special birthday party. “We used a military device that works through a satellite to pinpoint the yacht’s co-ordinates and drop it within ten metres,” he says. “It is usually used for such things as ransom drops, but we have a contact in body armouring who helped us out as a favour!”
Bianca McNulty, who runs the concierge service at YCO, often handles requests to get hairdressers and trainers on board; she has booked tennis courts at Eden Roc and organised a flamenco party for clients. But her most unusual task was to find an English-speaking Catholic priest in the Balearics to bless a boat, because the yacht had experienced a spate of bad luck since its new owners bought her. YCO launched its concierge service last year. “It is not just about the experience of being on a boat, but about experiencing the superyacht lifestyle,” explains McNulty. “We want to enrich a client’s experience and give them something exclusive that no one else has done.”
Oplicity is another newcomer, co-founded a year ago in Portsmouth by Malcolm Tod and Shelley Dowie, who share years of experience in the superyacht industry. They operate a concierge service and yacht management business tailored to private yachts in the 40-metre to 60-metre bracket. Each yacht has a dedicated lifestyle manager who looks after requests from chartering private jets and arranging access to beach clubs in Cannes to flying a box of vegetables out to a boat in Tahiti. “We realised there was hardly anyone out there providing luxury lifestyle services and that there is a growing need for it,” says Dowie. “It allows us to get to know our clients preferences and to come up with helpful and exciting suggestions for future destinations.”
The need for a concierge service is not exclusive to megayachts. Yachtique Concierge Club, part of the Azimut Benetti group, launched at the Cannes Boat Show last autumn and is designed for the Atlantis and Azimut ranges of yachts up to 30 metres, though the service will also work with the captains of bigger Benettis and given that Azimut Benetti has around 2,000 clients around the Mediterranean, there is a captive client base for the service. As the yachting world is suffering the impact of the Eurozone crisis, it is perhaps not surprising that companies are looking to take extra care of clients, points out David Pranzini, director of Yachtique. “It helps us get feedback from clients and tailor our service in a non-intrusive way.”
The management of PrivatSea, part of the Latsis Group, also realised they had to offer clients more. The company’s membership operation has been firmly established for five years, with offices in Athens, Jeddah and London. “We want to offer a special treatment that is over and above what a Platinum credit card holder would receive,” says a representative for PrivatSea. “The internet has made a big difference in the past decade: clients are aware of what is available now and feel they need to shop around the different brokers. We help them bypass that.”
One of the benefits of PrivatSea, which has the 122-metre Alexander and the 117-metre Turama on its books, is the alliance it has with luxury private villas: a charterer can start his holiday on a superyacht and finish it in a beautiful island villa. It is that extra twist in the service that PrivatSea delivers, which the company claims any good broker should be offering today. “It is the way chartering is going and it is what clients want now.”
Certainly this demand for a high level of service has been the experience of Robert Dubsky, who keeps comprehensive reports on clients’ preferences, right down to the tiniest lifestyle details, so that they are satisfied from the moment their charter begins. “It is all about forming relationships and building trust, and actually being there to help them,” says Dubsky. He demands gold-tapped luxury for his clients, who range from Russian to British, American and Norwegian, and is very specific about the superyachts he charters: Pegasus V and Indian Empress are amongst the most reliable on the water, he says: “Everyone comes back with a smile on their face.”
Aside from the detailed pre-charter organisation there are plenty of special requests he has to field. He has tracked down the owner of a private island to arrange a beach party for his clients; he even sourced live tigers and lions for the jungle-themed party of a charter guest’s child (although, he adds, the owner refused to allow the animals on board his yacht!).
Robert’s proudest concierge moment came when he took a call from a client at 4am. The client was on charter in Croatia but informed Robert that he urgently needed a new yacht, as the one he was on had just caught fire. “By the end of that day, a private jet had flown him from the stricken yacht to Corfu where he joined a new 50-metre that took him back up the Dalmatian coast to where he wanted to be.” The client later wrote to Dubsky: “You made what could have been a disaster into an adventure.”