Digital Marketing in the Charter Industry

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My first encounter with the charter industry was a few days ago in Vienna at the International Charter Expo 2019. This conference is a B2B event that gathers 3 main pillars of nautical tourism industry:

  1. Suppliers/shipyards – Alongside the marines and ports on the coast, new(ish) kinds of suppliers are emerging, such as online booking systems, various yacht insurance companies and start-ups that aim to become sort of a Booking.com in charter industry, for example GotoSailing.com and Zizzo. Oh, and obviously one digital marketing agency managed to squeeze into this heterogeneous crew.
  2. Fleet operators – The most interesting thing about these companies, to me at least, is that they seem to consider themselves to be so dependent on brokers and agencies (we’ll get to them in the moment) that they hardly see those agencies and brokers exist because of them. Afterall, fleet operators are the ones with yachts that agencies charter.
  3. Brokers and charter agencies – As much as charter agencies depend on fleet operators, fleet operators depend on charter agencies because they invest a lot of money in the yachts. If those yachts remain empty, the investment isn’t coming back and the business is not sustainable. 

In total, there were more than 400 companies at the ICE 2019. I did some digging regarding the usual marketing activities in the industry. What I’ve found is a lot of talks about brochures, publications, yachting and/or luxury events. As far as digital marketing activities are concerned – pretty much every, if not every, company represented on ICE 2019 has its website (for better or for worse) and sends out newsletters. Most of them also have their social media accounts (mostly Facebook and Instagram) and some of them are playing with Google Ads, mostly on the search network. Now pretend you haven’t just read the last sentence and think about the audience for which these marketing efforts are created. We have brochures, publications, events, website and newsletter. Anyone thinking of Gen X or is it just me? I immediately have an image of a 50+ year old with a Cuban cigar and sunglasses, standing on a yacht with his family lounging around the deck (probably 2nd wife and younger kids from both marriages). There is an interview in which I’ve read that Gen X is mostly represented in this industry, from both the charter companies and fleet operators side and customer side. 

The thing is, when we’ve talked with one of the younger fleet operators in the industry, I’ve learned that the crowd coming to boats is not at all what I’ve pictured. It seems that there are Gen Y groups of friends and Gen Y families coming to sail during the summer from all over Europe, and the company knows exactly from which countries people are coming in which period of the year. The misalignment I can see with my yet unchartered and unknowing eyes, and maybe I’m entirely wrong on this, but why approach Gen Y customers the same way you’ve used to approach Gen X? What works on them, doesn’t necessarily work on younger customers. If you, as a fleet operator, know exactly (and they all seemed like they know they customers really well) where your customers are, their demographics, when they are mostly coming to you, what their obvious interests are, why don’t you use the tools that are at your disposal and could potentially help you decrease the power of or cut out the middleman entirely (a.k.a. charter agencies and their provisions)? Everyone we’ve had a meeting with seemed as they know that they should finally start using social media and Google Ads in their fullest potential. Why don’t they?

The fleet operator companies, as well as agencies, could surely benefit from quality responsive websites that are clean, simple and providing users with correct and easily accessible information. Also, it’s very important that search and filters work flawlessly on the websites. Add in the mixture well done SEO, which can be further improved by traffic brought to the site through Google Ads and social media, and you have a strong foundation for your further digital marketing efforts. Content for both website and social media is also something they are not taking full advantage of. Blogs would be very useful and the topics could be of a wide variety: from destinations, travel-on-a-boat advices, all the way to the more educative and niche content such as descriptions of yachts, technologies used in building, maintaining and navigating them. They can find their brand awareness to be well built and boosted on social media such as Facebook and Instagram, if only done correctly. Luxury products and services like this are an object of desire and basically everyone strives to get to afford them sometime in their lives. I’m quite surprised that there is no widely known Facebook or Instagram account that millions of people follow, at least for inspiration purposes. Facebook ads are also a tool they should be exploiting, with the wide variety of campaigns and targeting offered within the Facebook network. Probably the most suitable digital option for these companies would be Google Search ads targeted directly to the geographic locations and demographic groups the companies already know they get the most customers from. And they also already know which keywords and terms are the most important to them. We’ve found out that customers take lots of time to make their final decision, up to one month, so remarketing campaigns in Google Display network could show themselves quite useful.


Maybe they, as an industry, just haven’t yet had an exemplified company that got up the courage to sail in the deep of the digital marketing waters and conquer them, thus clearing the way for the entire fleets to follow. Just maybe, what this industry needs, is a pirate ship, ready and set to break the old, well established rules that few others dare to even question just yet. After the conference, I still remain with unanswered questions: Does digital marketing possibilities and tools have their place and are just waiting to shine in the charter industry, and until when? Is this industry destined to remain mostly bound to traditional marketing activities until new generations become rich enough or represented enough in the charter industry? And most importantly, what could be this pirate ship that will turn this industry upside down? Us at ForgeBIT would love to hear your thoughts on this. You can leave a comment here, contact us on social, send an email to office@forgebit.com.

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