These are the lessons I learned when establishing Arkadaslik Yachting. You don't have to be rich, but you do need to be disciplined and thoughtful. And maybe a little bit crazy...
Starting a yacht charter business sounds appealing - spending your days on a luxury yacht, cruising to exotic locales, and hanging out with "the rich and famous". While there are many benefits to running your own business, especially when it coincides with your boating passion, in the end, it's still a job - and requires a lot of work. A. Lot. Of. Work!
In addition to the basic principles which apply when establishing and running any business, there are issues impacting the world of boating which must also be factored in to your decisions.
Who's your customer, and what do they want?
There's an often misquoted movie saying - "build it and [they] will come". This is NOT true in the world of yacht chartering. Research your customer requirements first - and then get a boat that suits their needs.
If you want to appeal to companies for corporate meetings at sea, you'll need a high-end yacht with enough cabins to accommodate all guests (and their families) plus a large board-room type set-up. Corporate requirements will be vastly different from those of a family who want to spend the day celebrating Grandma's 90th birthday, or a couple who want complete privacy for a romantic honeymoon get-away. This isn't an industry where people will take whatever yacht you have to offer. Your boat (or boats) must satisfy your customers' requirements (and budget) or they'll take their business elsewhere.
Different jurisdictions have different requirements for charter boats and charter businesses. Crossing borders can complicate matters. Make sure you know where your potential clientele want to travel, as that may also impact the specifications for your vessel.
What's your niche?
Make sure there's some uniquely defining characteristic or service that you can provide that will set you apart from your competition. There are thousands of yachts of every size and class available for charter around the world. And they all claim to be "the best". What characteristic will compel people to select your charter from all possible options?
What's your background?
If you're new to the industry (as I was when I established Arkadaslik Yachting), develop a mentoring partnership with an established, trust-worthy business in the beginning. Take advantage of all they have to share - their expertise, network of contacts, customer base, etc. so you don't spend all your time "reinventing the wheel". Pro-actively expand your network of trusted business advisors to include areas such as hospitality, tourism, catering, agriculture and import/export trading. You'll be surprised at how often you need their advice.
Who will be working for you?
Hire qualified and experienced crew and treat them well. Your boat's crew will make or break the success of your venture. All hell can be breaking loose on the boat, but a good crew will deal with the issues in a professional manner, keeping your passengers safe and happy.
What's your budget?
Boats are virtual money pits and expenses aren't limited to the up-front cost. In addition to the initial purchase and all your "normal business" expenses, you have to factor in costs for routine maintenance, emergency maintenance, insurance (don't skimp on insurance), berthing fees, licensing, transit logs and harbour master formalities, crew salaries and insurance, laundry, uniforms, etc. And, you need a contingency fund because all of these need to be paid, whether you have bookings or not.
But, be aware that you don't need to spend a ton of money on marketing or advertising. Once you've got even a hint of a reputation, search for creative "out of the box" opportunities to expand your reach. I wrote a series of articles for the local newspaper to help potential customers understand the benefits of chartering a boat for their summer vacation. I invited influential travel bloggers to join us on trips when cabins would otherwise go empty. I hosted "open house" events while anchored in the harbour to entice our target demographic to come aboard and learn more about the services we offer. And I learned the value of social media as a free marketing tool!
Starting-up and running a yacht charter business is a rewarding way to earn a living. You need to be commited and resourceful, but with hard work and a bit of creativity, it is very possible to be successful. Best wishes if you choose to pursue the venture. Happy sailing!