Karen Kelly Shea, President and CEO of Nicholson Yachts, opens up about the yachting industry, possible Formula 1 ties and how being small has worked out great.
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How would you describe your line of work to an outsider?
Nicholson Yachts is a boutique yacht charter brokerage, charter management and yacht sales company – founded in 1949 in Antigua, West Indies. Nicholson essentially acts as the liaison between yacht owners and their crew as well as charter brokers and their charter clients. The Nicholson Charter Management team is highly organised and efficient in compiling the myriad of details on the yachts and their crew – these are the details that charter brokers need to “sell” charters on the yachts. They must also promptly and efficiently reply to broker inquiries in order to facilitate charter bookings.
Once the client has selected a yacht in Nicholson’s fleet, our charter managers provide the charter broker with information for drafting the charter agreement and places an option for the dates on the yacht’s calendar. After the broker secures a charter deposit and draws up the contract, Nicholson will forward the document to the yacht owner and/or captain for signature. Once the contract is fully signed and charter confirmed, Nicholson’s Charter Manager is busy assisting the broker in coordinating boarding point, charter itinerary, the guest food and beverage requests and making sure the crew has all the information necessary to have a highly successful yacht charter holiday for their clients!
What has changed in the yachting industry during the last few years?
The first thing that jumps to mind is that the yachts that are available for charter seem to be continuously getting larger and more luxurious! Charter clients have a really amazing selection of yachts to choose from, in all budgets and locations. In addition, yacht crews seem to be more and more professional with vast yacht experience worldwide.
The level of training that professional yacht chefs have today is tremendous. Most yacht chefs have the training to be able to accommodate dietary restrictions and special diets without hesitation – gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan and kosher, you name it. Also, it’s possible to get provisions and special ingredients just about anywhere that yachts charter.
Online affairs have certainly changed the business and made the booking process faster and more efficient with the ability to email a brochure link instantly to clients with very high-resolution photographs and videos, online contract signing from any mobile device and web sites adapting to a cell phone screen. I cannot say with certainty that social media has brought in charter bookings, however, it has absolutely helped to educate the general population about this wonderful vacation option.
The yachting industry is consistently growing in the last decade, but so does the competition. The market is overflowing with new, younger clientele looking for faster, sexier boats. Graphic design and a good website are most likely the most important parts of the business today with many clients reaching us online. We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.
We even got contacted once with an idea to build a racetrack on a small Caribbean island!
How is the yachting sector doing at the moment globally and which markets are getting stronger?
Sales brokerage is definitely the main focus for most companies today with a growing market pushing the limits of design, length, and price tag. For example, the 2016 sales report on superyacht sales in Boat International showed 370, together rounding a worth of €3.37 billion. While in 2017 there were already 354 superyacht sales, topping more than €3.2 billion with two more months to go.
What is not to be overlooked is that charter, especially luxury crewed charter, is a perfect way to try before you buy. New and remote destinations are very popular among charterers, with more and more inquiries for the Pacific, Indian Ocean, Croatia and even the southwest coast of South America.
Is it hard to introduce innovation and creativity in your work?
In a way, yes. The competition is very strong and it is getting harder to stand out of the crowd. Then again Nicholson is a very established name in the industry and we get most business through referral and repeat clients. Our standards have always revolved around personal service and attention to detail. It’s hard to be big and accomplish that, so we are pleased to remain a boutique retail charter, charter fleet management and yacht brokerage company. Small is good. No, small is great. We love what we do and how we do it, even after all these years.
How, do you think, we all could improve the business relationship between Formula 1 and companies like yours?
I think the racing and the yachting industry – both sales and charter — are on the same level of excitement and luxury. They have a lot in common. Adventurous sailing and stopping in Monaco for the Grand Prix sounds as good as it gets. Perhaps we can work closely with the industry leaders and organisers to create packages and stimulate better coverage for yacht attendance in locations like Monaco, Singapore and Abu Dhabi. We even got contacted once with an idea to build a racetrack on a small Caribbean island!
How does Formula 1 as an industry look to you today, business-wise?
It’s daunting. It’s like Google – unless the Formula 1 industry makes partnerships available to boutique-level partners, it’s unattainable. Perhaps Formula 1 would like a charter company like Nicholson to host an onboard event with our fleet. We await the invitation.