To borrow a phrase from Game of Thrones, “it is known” in the Mediterranean that boat rentals begin and end on a Saturday. But is keeping your fleet schedule Saturday to Saturday the best way to run your business? An increasing number of charter operators are taking a cue from the Caribbean and starting to book charters on different days, and for periods longer or shorter than a week.
So, should you adapt to a non-Saturday schedule? The answer is largely dependent on your customers.
What nationality are your customers?
Of course, knowing your customers’ nationality can’t predict their behavior, but there are some overarching trends. Many European charter guests are used to the Saturday schedule, since it’s been traditional for so long. In addition, sailors who are immersed in the industry and who crew their own boats are likely to favor this schedule as it’s what they’re used to.
However, customers from the United Kingdom and North America are less likely to be familiar with the Saturday rental schedule. Additionally, these guests may have different travel constraints.
For instance, an American customer booking a yacht vacation in Croatia needs to book a round trip flight to Europe and will often look for the best deal on that flight. According to FareCompare, international flights tend to be cheaper during the week than on weekends. It’s possible your customers pay more attention to deals on flights than deals on boats.
Guests who fly in on a Tuesday may not want to wait until the following Saturday to embark. If your charter doesn’t offer weekday check-in, that customer is likely to book with another company.
Be mindful of the competition
For a long time, a Saturday-to-Saturday schedule meant you were keeping up with your neighbors. But as some charter operators being to break from this schedule, sticking to it could put you at a disadvantage. Knowing your neighbors is particularly important when growth depends on attracting new guests, including guests who may not have sailed before.
For instance, many charter operators are starting to target travelers who would normally travel via cruise or stay at a coastal hotel. These travelers expect booking a boat to feel similar to booking a hotel or other trip. Facing a Saturday-to-Saturday limitation may be a deterrent for a potential customer who’s used to booking into hotels or trips whenever they want, for however long they want.
If you are in an area where you think you might be able to recruit new customers who’ve never chartered a boat before, offering shorter trips (three to four days) with flexible check-in and checkout times could help you attract new customers.
Can you handle the logistics?
Before you switch to accepting reservations any day of the week, be sure to keep in mind the logistics of scheduling these charters. Specifically, if you tend to book crewed charters (a preference of those same British and North American guests), you may need to pay extra attention to schedules to ensure you have staff available for every booking.
There are a few ways to help manage these logistics. You might pick one weekday other than Saturday to start and end charters—like Wednesday or Sunday.
Enaviga Chief Operating Officer François Hélard points out doing this with your entire fleet can help you avoid hectic Saturdays at the marina. This can be a selling point to customers, particularly if most of your competitors adhere to a Saturdays-only schedule. Since many boats need to be in-marina by Friday night anyway, why not shift to a Friday-to-Friday schedule?
If you do it with a portion of your fleet—setting aside a handful of boats for a Wednesday to Wednesday rotation, for instance—you once again give guests the option, but only have to plan for two “rotations” in your schedules.
You could also offer check-in and checkout for any day of the week but offer discounts to guests who book Wednesday to Wednesday or Saturday to Saturday. This way, guests who prioritize flexibility around dates aren’t discouraged from booking with you. On the other hand, your remaining guests have an incentive to book in a way that’s more convenient for you and your staff.
Lastly, you could offer any-day booking for a small portion of your fleet but keep the remaining boats on a Saturday schedule. This experiment is a good way to test out whether shifting to a more flexible schedule works for you, according to Hélard.
Whatever you decide, using good software to help you manage your fleet, bookings, and crew can help you manage the challenges that a new booking schedule could present.