Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Superyachts and the Cruise Industry - American Superyacht Forum Day 1

I arrived in Seattle for the American Superyacht Forum (which is annually held in a "yachting" city or hopeful yachting city, such as Newport, Rhode Island,  San Diego, California, etc.)  Though I had been to the airport I had never actually visited Seattle, so I was looking at this trip not only from a yachtie standpoint, but from a cruise one as Seattle is a fairly regular embarkation port.

I am staying at the Marriott Waterfront which has a lovely bay view and typically comfortable, but not flashy, rooms.  My view is of a small yacht marina inside of the commercial pier.  The Bell Conference Center is pretty much 2 minutes away...and the cruise terminal is literally attached to it.  So,the first connection between the two industries I found on Monday is that yacht conference or cruise, stay at the Marriott Waterfront the night before.

The Keynote Speaker is the owner of the 152 foot (46 metre) sailing yacht S/Y Antara.  It was a joy to listen to an "old time" owner that still enjoys the "getting there" more than the "being there" (i.e. the journey is what he enjoys most as opposed to many new yacht owners that want to meet their superyacht once it has arrived in a port...usually by way of their private helicopter landing on the yacht's deck).  Just as that was enjoyable to hear, I was more than surprised to find out he lives literally in the town next to my office and he sails his smaller 44 foot sailboat in the Navesink River, which my office oversees.  (I had to fly to Seattle to meeting because...why?)

During his talk he discussed his experiences from his first sailboat to present.  Then he mentioned he just loves being at sea and spoke fondly of doing a crossing on the Queen Mary 2 just watching the water.  I asked him about his cruise, taken as a Grill Class guest, and he said he was very impressed with the service, but that was before he owned S/Y Antara, his first superyacht.  When I asked him about the difference in service quality he said from the moment he stepped on his superyacht he was "blown away" by the much higher level of service.  He has, for example, hosted former President George H.W. Bush for lunch and a sail on S/Y Antara.  Yes, there is a difference between cruise ship luxury and superyacht luxury.

But we talked a bit more after his talk and I asked him if he would like to sail in the Pacific Northwest, which is quite beautiful.  His answer was that it just wasn't practical to bring his yacht such a distance.  That lead me to ask if he would consider taking a cruise.  The response didn't really surprise me:  Concerns over the level of service, cuisine, etc.  I then asked him if he knew of Seabourn and he admitted a vague knowledge of a cruise line that had something like 90 passengers (SeaDream).  Obviously we spoke a bit about Seabourn and his interest grew and thoughts of spending time on the water visiting more exotic places became a viable option that he never had really considered.

The next conference panel was on State of the Industry - The USA in 2010 and Beyond.  Billy Smith III, the always energized vice president of Trinity Yachts spoke of how to attracted new people to the superyacht industry which, like most industries, finds itself suffering in this economy.  His comment, "The cruise industry introduces people to the ocean if not yachting" obviously jumped out at me.  It hit me that there are millions of potential yacht owners that don't live near the water and that they are part of the 85% of Americans and 95+% of Europeans and Asians that have never cruised.  (BTW, his son is working during his college summer by working for Holland America land tours in Alaska.)

So just on the first day of this conference from cruise terminal to levels of service to practicality of visiting exotic locales, to attracting clients...and even just enjoying the sea...has again tied together the superyacht and cruise industries.