Nov. 11, 2002 – Yachts overflowed Crown Bay Marina for the Virgin Islands Charteryacht League's 28th annual fall show, Thursday through Monday. In fact, four of the 57 vessels were unable to find slip room, and their crews met brokers ashore.
It was "a great turnout," Susan Chandler, VICL executive director, said.
Nearly 130 charter yacht brokers from the U.S. mainland, Europe and the surrounding Caribbean viewed the fleet of luxury yachts and met the captains and chefs. Many of the brokers, the sales force of the industry, were fresh from the Tortola show of the Charter Yacht Society of the British Virgin Islands.
"You really have to do both shows to see everyone," St. Thomas-based broker Ellen Stewart of Stewart Yacht Charters said. Only one yacht at Crown Bay was also shown at Tortola, she said; "the rest are different."
The St. Thomas show featured a mix of monohull and multihull sailing yachts, as well as a few power yachts. "We're seeing more power boats of all sizes, not just megayachts," Chandler said. "There's not as many catamarans, but the ones that are here are bigger. We have a 57-footer showing. The bulk of the fleet are the monohulls in the 50-to 60-foot range."
This was Brian Knight's second V.I. boat show aboard his 50-foot Morgan, Dollar Corn, named as a catchy version of "buck an ear" or "buccaneer." Originally from Texas and most recently from San Diego, Knight said on Friday: "The show's been great, been busy. I have 50 business cards in my pocket, and this is just the second day."
Knight said what brought him to charter in the Virgin Islands is "the proximity of the islands, the prevailing trade winds and U.S. flag."
It was Lisa Lundt and Bob Brokaw's fourth fall show aboard their 102-foot power yacht, Our Delight. Like many others in the charter fleet, Lundt and Brokaw left the islands for hurricane season and chartered along the New England coast. "We're happy to be back," Lundt said.
Seminars focus on industry concerns
The show kicked off with a welcome party at Tickles Dockside Pub. Other events for boaters and brokers included a "Caribbean luau" aboard the Kon Tiki, a Mariners Masked Ball at the Sugar Mill Restaurant and a Pirates' Blender Contest. Noontime seminars addressed topics including the popularity of dive charters and the use of the Internet in the charter industry.
"Dive charters have really picked up," Chandler said. "There's so much more a broker needs to know, such as insurance issues, special releases and questionnaires that prospective dive clients need to fill out in advance."
Nearly a dozen of the VICL yachts specialize in dive charters. The captains, and often the crews, too, hold divemaster certificates and offer everything from resort courses for beginners to open water certification to dive excursions for certified divers.
Use of the Internet came under discussion during a noontime seminar on "The Ups and Downs of the Charter World — A Changing Industry" presented by Sherry Yates of Yates Yachts, a former Virgin Islands-based broker now operating out of Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
"What it takes to book a charter is money and education on the part of the broker," Yates said. She read aloud an e-mail request she had received from a couple wanting an itinerary that hopped to 10 islands in 10 days. While this looks easy on a map, she said, it isn't practical or even possible.
"The Internet and the ability to communicate with potential clients is the biggest thing that's happened to this industry in recent years, but it has its positives and negatives," Yates said.
One negative is the anonymity of e-mail, she said: "In the past, we used the phone to get to know our clients during the booking process. Now, many times we don't get a telephone number or even a response after that first e-mail."
Bob Wise, who with wife Sheila operates the St. Thomas-based brokerage Paradise Connections, said they "get about 33 percent of our contacts through the form on our Web site, 33 percent by e-mail, and 33 percent by phone."
In discussion, brokers said a fierce bidding war among themselves for key words on search engines is driving the price of Internet advertising close to that of print. As an example, the cost per click by a potential client to a broker's site can be as much as $4.
Bob Roth of Charternet, a Sanford, Florida-based Internet directory for marine-related companies, and a show exhibitor joined the discussion. "We'll soon see a saturation point and brokers will find alternate ways to drive traffic," he said.
Some boaters voiced concerns about brokers becoming complacent regarding advertising, waiting to be contacted via their Web sites rather than pounding the pavement for potential customers.
"I don't hear of brokers cold calling — calling companies, corporations and other groups to solicit interest in a charter yacht vacation," Laura Lewis, who with husband Greg owns and operates Sea Chateau, a 50-foot catamaran, said. "More time, energy and money seem to be spent in Web site design and search engines."
'Miracle' boat parade is next
The 176-member VICL is planning two activities in the coming months — the third annual Lighted Boat Parade on Dec. 13 as part of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce's "Miracle on Main Street" holiday festivities, and a marine trade show in February.
For the parade, the boats will travel along the Charlotte Amalie waterfront to the West Indian Co. dock, then loop back, staying as close to the waterfront apron as possible. "Spectators will be able to hear all the folks on the boats singing Christmas carols," Chandler said. Past years' entries have included sailing and power vessels from 26 to 65 feet and U.S. Coast Guard craft.
Last year's parade winner featured Santa and his reindeer on one side of the boat and a big sleigh on the other. "It was really a work of art," Chandler said. "The picture from afar was right out of a winter fairy tale."
The VICL trade show will be held in early February. "We've already had great interest from the business community, everyone from the traditional marine trades to restaurant supply and refrigeration companies," Chandler said.
Marine tourism contributes just under $30 million to the territory's economy.
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