Alexander Coles, Founder and CEO of Bespoke Yacht Charter

Alexander Coles, Founder and CEO of Bespoke Yacht Charter

Bespoke Yacht Charter offers the definitive luxury yacht charter experience on the French Riviera, throughout the Mediterranean and worldwide, with fully independent yacht charter brokers offering unbiased advice and access to every professionally crewed superyacht, motor yacht and sailing yacht available on the global luxury yacht charter market.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and why you started Bespoke Yacht Charter?

As someone that has been fortunate enough to spend at least a few months a year in the South of France since childhood, I have always been around the world of superyachts but never actually planned to get into this industry.

Technology and the internet have always been my principal interest and I got into yacht charters by accident. I was working for a brokerage house in 2003 helping them with their website and SEO for a few months. I noticed that their focus was almost entirely on sales and not charter. When I asked about this, I was told that I could do a charter if I was interested. So I did, and over 11 years, grew a non-existent business into one booking charters valued at in excess of €6m annually.

In 2014, I decided it was time to go my own way and formed Bespoke Yacht Charter with my partner.

Can you describe what the core business is for Bespoke Yacht Charter?

Our core business is the charter of crewed luxury yachts from 30-70m in all popular Mediterranean yachting destinations, with particular emphasis on the Côte d’Azur, Corsica and Sardinia. Principally motor yachts but we do some sailing yachts.

The bulk of the charters we do are for families and last from 7-10 days. Another very important part of our business, and something that is gaining in popularity, is static yacht charters for major industry events in Cannes.

Our two busiest events are the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in June (a sort of film festival for the ad industry) and the annual MIPIM real estate event that takes over Cannes every March.  Companies charter yachts at these events to use as their Cannes base, providing accommodation, meeting areas and of course a fabulous venue for parties to impress their clients!

The fact that the Palais des Festivals conference venue where these events take place is located on the Port of Cannes means that a yacht works incredibly well for an event in Cannes, with huge branding opportunities.

Other events where yacht charters are popular include the TFWA Tax-Free Exhibition in October and of course, our charter brokers do multiple yacht charters each year for the Monaco Grand Prix.

Do you see the type of charter clientele and type of vessels changing in the next 5-10 years, and what are your methods for keeping in touch with market trends?

I have noticed a decline in the number of private British clients since the Brexit vote which I would presume is as a result of Sterling being relatively weak vs. the Euro but who knows.

It’s also becoming popular for multiple families to charter together and take larger yachts. The average size of yacht that I charter is definitely on the up.  When I started in the early 2000s, my typical booking was on a 24m yacht, now the average is 35m.

I also notice a lot of clients are realising that speed is not everything and many are abandoning fast sports yachts for more spacious and comfortable, slower yachts from yards like Benetti and Arcadia Yachts. This is something I have actually been encouraging for a long time and I am pleased to see clients taking note. Whilst speed is of course a factor if the client has a very ambitious itinerary, comfort underway and at anchor, as well as deck space is much more important on almost all yacht charters.

Mangustas and that sort of yacht definitely have their place, but something like a tri-deck Benetti Tradition 30m provides a much better charter experience for the vast majority of people.

I keep up with industry trends by constantly talking to colleagues across the industry, attending boat shows, social media etc.  I also love talking to my clients and especially with Captains and crew.   The best way to understand the charter industry is to book lots of charters!

How successful has Bespoke Yacht Charter been so far?

We have grown each year since we started the business! I am lucky enough to have a core group of repeat clients that book yachts every year. Many of them also refer friends and family, so that leads to new clients, plus of course the bookings we generate from new enquiries we receive from our website.

The fastest growing part of the business is the Cannes event charters. In 2017, we had 14 yachts on charter for events in Cannes and this year, we are on track to have more than 20.

As well as pushing yacht charters during some of the other events in Cannes where they are not yet highly popular, we would also love to do more weddings on yachts and to grow the number of day charters we do, perhaps bringing in a new broker to focus solely on those.

We are seeing more yachting businesses align with the global sharing economy or giving charter clients click-to-book platforms via apps, where interaction with a charter broker is not part of the booking process.  In light of this, how do you position Bespoke Yacht Charter’s expertise and knowledge in this charter environment?

I may live to regret saying this, but I don’t really see apps and the sharing economy as a threat to a good charter broker!

I think services like UberBoat in Croatia are fantastic and have used them myself. If you have a group of 8 friends staying in Monaco that want to go to Pampelonne Beach and St Tropez for the day, booking a 40ft boat for an all-inclusive price on an app makes a great deal of sense but I don’t see the CEO of a London hedge fund entrusting his €250,000 holiday to an app on his iPhone and customer service call centres in Sri Lanka.

Yacht charter, like most high-end travel, is about personal relationships, personalities and knowing your client and their exact needs. I get to know my clients very well, often over years and I know which yachts they will like and which crews will work best with their personalities. I am able to prepare incredibly detailed briefs to let Captains and crew deliver amazing charters, telling them exactly what food the client likes, how they like to be served, where and when they like to cruise, or how they will react in the event of bad weather.

I often spend many months preparing a charter for a client, ordering their preferred wines, booking restaurants, securing berths and making sure that every last detail is exactly as they want it. I act on behalf of the charterer before, during and after the charter. Who would mediate between an unhappy client and the Captain or Owner if they’d booked the charter on an app? Who would get in the car at 5 am and go to St Tropez to meet the client for breakfast with the Captain?

Likewise, a good charter broker is an expert at accommodating last-minute changes in plans and minimising stress for the crew. What app can organise a party for 120 people with a DJ, live band, a sushi chef and their family members flown in from Norway with 4 hours notice?

The same goes for corporate events in Cannes. I often spend months planning my client’s entire week-long Cannes experience for them, both on land and on the water, and I am there on-site 24/7 to assist them and the yacht’s crew. The Owner of the yacht pays me a commission for booking his/her yacht, the client pays me nothing, even if I work for 5 months solid to make their event perfect.

What are the main charter destinations that you specialise in and what are the up-and-coming regions you are seeing more interest in?

The majority of charters we do are heavily focused on the French Riviera from Monaco, Cannes and St Tropez. But many clients do choose to incorporate Corsica, Sardinia and often Portofino in Italy when chartering in the south of France.

Monaco to Porto Cervo in 10 days is probably our most popular itinerary; the first 3-4 days on the Côte d’Azur, then 3 days in Corsica, ending in Sardinia.

Other popular destinations include Croatia, the Greek Islands and increasingly the Balearics where regulations have been relaxed and more quality yachts choose to go. This year, I am noticing an increased demand for southern Italy, especially Sicily.

I would love to do more charters in Australia and New Zealand, but clients wanting to do that are rare at the moment. Croatia is probably our fastest growing region, with a great selection of yachts regularly going there and some of the most fabulous scenery anywhere in the world.

For event charters, what are 3 crucial pieces of advice you can give potential charter clients?

  1. Listen to your broker and choose your yacht wisely. Choosing the flashiest yacht available is often not the best option. Many of the yachts that work best for Cannes events are the more classical options, offering a lot of space compared to more modern options at a similar budget, and most importantly their crews often have a great deal more experience doing charters for events. Your cocktail party for 80 guests will go much better on an older yacht doing their 6th Cannes event of the year than it will on the latest flashy yacht that spends most of its time doing family charters in Sardinia. I also tend to recommend yachts that are Cannes-based where possible as the Captains have the contacts and relationships with suppliers to accommodate last-minute requests.
  2. Whenever possible, companies should come and visit the yacht with their broker a month or two before the event. This makes sense on a number of levels but principally because it allows the client to see the space that is available to them, making it a great deal easier to programme events that will make the best of what the yacht has to offer. The client by talking to their broker and the crew onboard will often come up with great ideas that otherwise they would never have thought of. It also allows the crew to get to know the company that they are going to be looking after and representing. This is invaluable in ensuring a great event charter.
  3. When it comes to branding, go for quality, not quantity. Many yachts, especially at MIPIM look like they’ve just had flags and banners placed all over every free bit of space. The branding is not cohesive and actually just looks like a mess. We try to come up with a branding strategy that makes it look, for that week at least, that the yacht was made just for that company. We use a lot of transfers and stickers and try to incorporate corporate colours and themes into the design of the yacht. We’ve been working on lots of new techniques and are aiming to have the best-looking yachts in the port at MIPIM and Cannes Lions this year!

Can you share what Bespoke Yacht Charter has got planned for the future?

More of the same; I hope! We are very proud of the personal relationships we have with our clients and the way we do business.

It’s absolutely vital to us that as we grow, we don’t lose what makes us special. As I mentioned above, I think we will bring in a new broker dedicated to offering the ultimate day charters, but it will likely be someone that my partner and I have known for many years and understands exactly how we work.

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