- July 29th, 2011
- in Yachting
Special Treatment: Seeking Summer Incentives
Summer in the BVI used to be a fairly fallow period. Charter companies pulled their boats from the water and crews worked to refurbish and repair them for the season to come. In recent years that pattern has changed. Thanks in part to improved weather information and to the development of more easily maintained yachts, the business of sail and power chartering is now a year-round affair.
Changes in the chartering demographic, as well as the growth of the crewed yacht segment and improvements in yield-management practices have meant that companies can offer special events charters, last-minute deals and motivational pricing to bring customers to the islands.
One of the oldest-established special-events segments is the summer-school programme as offered by Sail Caribbean, SeaTrek, Action Quest and others. These companies charter yachts from a variety of providers, and their activities lead to a knock-on effect with suppliers of other equipment throughout the islands. Dinghy rentals, dive-gear rental and repair, paddle board and other toy suppliers all get a boost from the summer school and camp companies.
As for the charter companies themselves, the summer season seems always to be in flux. Horizon Yacht Charters' Courtney Frett told P&Y that “the season goes on longer than it used to.” Because the summer is more of a kids' vacation time, “catamarans are always booked for the summer,” Ms. Frett said. air conditioning on the bigger boats might be a draw as well. Horizon offers flexible options to local residents, such as short-term charters for less than five nights. Horizon closes for charters from Aug 20 through the end of September, Ms Frett said. Horizon is one of the companies participating in the BVI Tourist Board's Staycation initiative. Information on that programme can be found at bvistaycation.com/sailing.html
BVI Yacht Charters is another company with special offers for the summer. One of the company's better known initiatives is to offer 10 nights for the price of 7 on charters from July through October. A participant in the Staycation programme, BVI Yacht Charters offers up to 25 percent off charters of a two-night minimum to BVI residents. The company also offers short-term charters on larger yachts and will provide for single-day charters for local residents under certain conditions.
Sailing schools are a category that doesn't garner a lot of attention, but sailing lessons are good part of the local sailing economy. The big charter operators have special relationships with sailing schools, in some cases operating their own. In this fashion, they ensure a steady supply of educated customers who know the company and its products.
While some companies, such as Horizon and TMM, offer sailing instruction as part of the charter, the big companies—Moorings and Sunsail—have their own dedicated sailing schools. The Moorings has a relationship with Steve and Doris Colgate's Offshore Sailing School, which bills itself as “The Official Sailing School for The Moorings.” While most Offshore bookings come via the company's reservation staff, Offshore sometimes offers special pricing discounts on last-minute bookings for local residents. Offshore Sailing School offers sail and power instruction through US Sailing and their own Colgate Cert ification systems. Graduates of the Offshore courses are eligible to charter Moorings yachts in the BVI. Many students book a charter to immediately follow their Offshore course so then can have the family join them on their own personal adventure.
One of the largest sailing schools in the BVI, Sunsail's sailing instruction encompasses both American Sailing Association (ASA) certification and the Royal Yachting Association's (RYA) renowned qualifications. Both have special rates for local applicants. “We're here to get people on the water whilst teaching them safety and seamanship,” says Alan Lavery, the company's chief instructor. “That's what a lot of sailing schools forget. It's about getting people out and sailing—safely.” The ASA 101/103/104 certification is a 10-day course, whilst the RYA courses (Competent Crew, Day Skipper) take five days apiece. They can be run Saturday to Wednesdays so a local applicant need take only three days off work. Pricing is reduced for local residents.
Bucking the trend toward aggressive and creative pricing in the summer months, Virgin Traders, which occupies a specialty niche chartering motor yachts, makes no changes at all. James Burgess, managing director of the company, told P&Y that “frankly, we are fully booked pretty much all the time, so we don't really need incentives. We used to close down in the summer months but post 9/11 we've kept it ticking over through the summer.” The fact that the BVI has escaped serious hurricane activity in recent years has helped bolster customers' confidence, James said, “but we do encourage them to take out travel insurance in case of a named storm.” Virgin Traders makes no charge to reschedule a charter if it is adversely affected by weather.
This selection of companies and their special summer offerings is not meant to be exhaustive—if you're looking for a particular deal or have a particular requirement (perhaps the in-laws are coming for six weeks) then call around. There are many companies active in the territory and surely you'll be able to find one to accommodate your needs. Take a look at the BVI Tourist Board's Staycation web site, too. And don't forget to hydrate!