How COVID-19 Digitised Luxury Yacht Marketing Plans

How COVID-19 Digitised Luxury Yacht Marketing Plans 

With foreign travel banned for much of last year due to the global pandemic, many industries have been forced to seek alternative ways of conducting business, not least of all the yachting industry. 

Since the pandemic took hold in spring 2020, yacht shows – traditionally one of the most effective luxury yacht marketing tools – were cancelled one by one across the globe, forcing businesses to think of alternative ways to sell charters and yachts. 

Fast forward 12 months and the luxury yachting sector is celebrating an impressive recovery, with sales of new and used yachts over the last six months comparable to the booming figures of 2018, according to the SuperYacht Times. Indeed, Rose Damen, managing director of Damen Yachting made the observation that his company’s order book had grown by around €800million in the past 12 months. Damen said: “In a year without boat shows….we’ve had one of the best order intakes ever.”  

So, in the absence of yacht shows, how have brokerages succeeded in selling 381 used yacht sales over 24 metres since January – and more than 100 new yachts over 30 metres? And, looking at the bigger picture, how have marketing teams adapted their luxury yacht marketing plans following a year of zero expenditure on costly boat yacht shows?

Yacht marketing priorities pre-COVID

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, international yacht shows were the mainstay of luxury yacht marketing strategies for a number of decades, allowing brokers to meet and develop relationships with clients, show off their latest new builds and sell charters whilst also engaging in lots of sociable activities. Over the last ten years, brges okerahad started to develop their online presence, with greater percentages of the luxury yacht marketing budget being allocated to ensure that websites, CRM systems and social media feeds, for example, were implemented, up-to-date and user friendly. However, progress here was gradual, with some brokerages preferring to stick to traditional marketing methods.

Luxury yacht marketing plans during the pandemic: A digital revolution

With physical visits to shipyards not possible as well as the cancellation of many leading boat shows, the importance of a digital presence, not to mention a means of allowing potential clients to view the yachts they hope to charter or even buy online (perhaps through 360° video or even VR), was suddenly unavoidable. And to ensure that this was possible, many brokers invested large chunks of their marketing budget on improving their digital profiles.

David Westwood, managing partner of Monaco-based TWW Yachts, told the SuperYacht Times that his business has ensured it has up-to-date imagery and real-time, virtual 3D walkthroughs of all their listings. This enables his team to be able to conduct online meetings with clients, builders or designers instead of having to jump on a plane. Westwood said: “As a company, we’ve invested heavily in the future of yachting.” 

Another superyacht brokerage to focus significant sums on a digital future is our client Fraser Yachts, who we have been working with for over a decade to develop innovative digital marketing strategies. Chief executive officer Raphael Sauleau has successfully steered his company through one of the world’s most difficult business eras, with sales this year better than in any year since 2008.

“Fraser is experiencing the best year out of the last 13 for the number of yachts sold and the total last asking price, as well as average LOA. We are also selling yachts faster than ever, 60% faster than the market average, with one yacht in 2021 sold in just 26 days,” Sauleau told the SuperYacht Times earlier this month. 

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Fraser was already looking at ways to ensure the company kept up to speed with new technologies, from its CRM to new methods of working. However, as soon as the pandemic struck, it became apparent that the business must act smarter and faster. According to Boat International, Sauleau commented: “When the coronavirus came, there were a few factors we had to assimilate, then the situation kept changing and we had to speed up investment in digital and marketing tools.”

Top of his list of priorities was the overhaul of the company’s IT systems and internet infrastructure, with an initial budget of around €1 million set aside to ensure that Fraser has all the right tools to survive in the post-COVID world. Sauleau is realistic and expects that this figure may need to be exceeded to guarantee maximum online presence in the future.

“We’re likely to go beyond that €1 million investment going forward with new IT systems and websites, which is required today to be more visible. You have to be visible everywhere,” he states. “One of the other items COVID has brought to the table is how you spend your money as a business – teams used to be very traditional in marketing and selling, but Covid gave us the opportunity to do things differently.”

Another brokerage that had also started to invest in digital marketing technology just at the right time to allow them to sail through the pandemic, metaphorically speaking, was Cecil Wright & Partners. The company has been using the Matterport system (a three-dimensional camera system used for creating immersive and realistic experiences) since 2016, which meant that when lockdown happened, they were able to use 3D scans of its fleet for marketing. 

Henry Smith, Sales Broker at Cecil Wright & Partners, told the Superyacht Times: “Throughout lockdown, we hosted virtual tours of our central agency yachts. The captains were able to talk over the presentation as I ‘walked’ through the yachts on the normal route I would take if I were actually on board.”

Bob Denison, Managing Director of Denison, said his company was also ahead of the curve.  “Denison was really lucky to have a head start on some of our competitors. We already had a library of a few hundred video tours and virtual tours in place, since digital marketing has been a core part of our business model since the early 2000s.” 

Will physical yacht shows still receive budget in a post-pandemic world? Where will digital marketing fit?

Participating in yacht shows is notoriously expensive, with everything from transport to accommodation and luxurious parties to pay for, as well as the costly exhibition fees. And when brokerages have excelled at making sales without shelling out big figures for exhibiting at traditional events, will companies be reluctant to return? 

Whilst proof is evident that physical shows are not paramount to selling yachts, many brokers and event organisers believe strongly that there is still a need within luxury yacht marketing strategies for live events. According to Sauleau, yacht shows post-COVID should only be for potential clients who are genuinely interested in buying yachts or charters. “It needs to be within a framework because boat shows cost a lot of money – having a big stand and parties – and you have many visitors, but not a lot are buyers. I think you can have a middle ground whereby you attract the people who are really interested in chartering or buying a yacht, but we always need to make sure we have a return on investment,” he said.

Meanwhile Andrew Doole, president of the U.S. Boat Shows division of London-based Informa Markets, said: “The in-person aspect is absolutely critical. People who have a dream of boat ownership can realize it, up to a point, when they go and talk to manufacturers and actually see the boats in the water. To be able to compare two models is important. There’s no substitute to seeing what’s new in person — electronics, boats, the constant innovation in the marine industry.” 

However, this will not see the end of investment in digital marketing in the yachting industry, with the pandemic having proved countless benefits of having a strong online presence, such as the ability to sell to people across the world, and the option to offer much more flexibility around clients’ busy schedules. As we emerge from the health crisis, digital will work next to traditional marketing to ensure that brokerages are providing every possible option of discovering and viewing yachts, in order to meet their clients’ diverse needs.

The luxury yachting sector has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic impressively, achieving significant sales at a time when traditional marketing methods such as physical yacht shows and shipyard visits were off-limits. This has been possible through strong luxury yacht digital marketing strategies, which enabled brokerages to remain visible and successfully operating throughout the pandemic. 

If you would like to discuss your luxury yacht marketing plan for the coming year, please contact one of our team of consultants at Relevance Yacht today. We would be delighted to help.