During its 25 years as a yacht charter company, Sail Croatia has seen their typical customer change. As Croatia becomes one of the most popular sailing destinations in the globe, the number of clients has increased dramatically—along with the competition. In order to stay relevant, the company has had to adapt.
“The market is really changing,” says Jelena Jakus, Sales Manager at Sail Croatia. “Ten years ago, we had mostly experienced sailors on board, who were familiar with the way sailboats operate. And now, we have people who just like to travel, and they’re often people who have never sailed before.”
New types of clients mean adapting your business model, without alienating the clients you already have. Sail Croatia has managed to do that by focusing on customer feedback.
Turning customer insights into business strategy
Jakus points out that new clients have different expectations when they charter a boat. For instance, veteran sailors know that it’s standard to rent a boat from Saturday to Saturday. However, new clients usually don’t know about that practice, and they just want a check-in that’s convenient for them.
She also points out that many travelers want to explore potential vacations and charter options on their own time, meaning they often want to book when no one is physically in the office to help them. This shift required Sail Croatia to update their website, which they did in partnership with Enaviga. (See sidebar for more information.)
“What we have noticed… is our direct client inquiries increased, so we have more contacts, we have more direct clientele,” says Jakus. The company still books the majority of its charters through brokers and aggregators but hopes to book roughly 30 percent of its rentals through direct sales. When their website was outdated, that number was slipping. Thanks to a website update, “That is coming back.”
So, what other trends is Jakus noticing?
Trends in client requests
Jakus says clients look for bigger boats and focus less on the boat itself and more on the equipment. While some of the more serious sailors still want the latest and greatest boat technology, many clients who are new to sailing look for more of a “floating hotel.”
“What they really prefer is not the boat itself, it’s all the equipment on the boat, like standup paddle boards, inflatable toys, electric scooters, coffee machine, ice makers—everything is important, not just a good boat,” she says.
She’s also noticed an uptick in requests for historical information and tours from the boats’ crews. Between the popularity of “Game of the Thrones” filming locations and the ever-increasing reputation of Croatia as a sailing destination, guests are more interested in Croatia tours, not just sailing tours. They’re more familiar with what towns and islands they might want to visit. They have particular destination requests but also crave those off-the-beaten path destinations that only a local can provide.
The company does team-building activities where they explore different destinations themselves so they can find new places and share their individual knowledge and resources with each other and guests.
Take the time for feedback
With three-hour turnaround times for boats, especially on Saturday, it can feel very hard to take the time to ask clients for feedback. But Jakus tries to make this a priority (as long as the guest has time).
Something as simple as, “What was your favorite part of the trip?” can offer unexpected answers. Jakus can keep a record of these responses and use them when working on partnerships with restaurants or activity providers.
“This season was really good for many companies but not good for some,” she says. Jakus thinks the differentiator comes down to those extras—that the boat alone won’t do it anymore. How does she know that? Simply put: she makes the time to ask.