The superyacht industry is famous for many things, and chief amongst them is the yachts themselves. These gleaming marvels of science, engineering, design and fabrication often represent the sharp edge of the craftsmanship required in each of these fields.
But for all its luxury and sophistication, the superyacht industry has lagged behind in one key area: yacht itinerary planning. Those involved in itinerary design are stuck wrestling with inflexible and stubborn technology like pdf documents and even Powerpoint presentations. Charter Itinerary plans to change all of that.
Co-founders Boris de Bel and Candice Christiansen speak to OnboardOnline about who they are, what the company is all about, and why Charter Itinerary is the future of yacht itinerary planning.
Can you each tell me a little about your background and where you grew up?
Candice: I’m originally from Cape Town in South Africa. I studied at the University of Cape Town (UCT) where I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts. I moved to London soon afterwards and spent five years working in the oil industry, followed by the financial services industry and finally in the property industry.
Boris: I was born in Belgium. My family then moved to Kinshasa in the Congo where we lived from 1989 to 1999, so that’s really where I grew up. As a result of the war in the Congo, we were forced to leave and we ended up moving to Cape Town where I lived from 2000 until 2012. I did all of my schooling there as well as completing my studies at UCT.
How did you get involved in the yachting industry and what roles have you held in your careers so far?
Candice: In 2007, I moved to the South of France to be closer to the sea and also to indulge my love of France and the French language. I managed to get a job there as a broker’s assistant due to my fluency in English, ironically.
Boris: I graduated with a master’s degree in finance, but from the moment I had the degree in my hands, the first thing I knew for sure was that I didn’t want to work in finance! I took some time to reassess my plans and I decided that the middle of the ocean sounded like a good place. At some point, I found out about Robertson and Caine, a famous Cape Town-based catamaran builder. They build yachts for The Moorings, a charter company, which are shipped and sailed across to wherever they’re needed.
The yachts are stored prior to departure at the Cape Grace marina, so I began dock walking that marina every day for about four or five weeks. I eventually met a skipper who was soon departing on a delivery trip and needed a deckhand. I begged him to take me with. He agreed and I rushed home, only to realise that I’d forgotten to ask where we were going! Well, we went to the Caribbean and although I’d never sailed before, I loved it.
I went on to work as a crew member on luxury yachts for the next three years, which taught me that I wanted to have a career in yachting but I didn’t want to spend it working at sea. So my focus shifted to building contacts that would help me come ashore. This resulted in me joining one of the biggest yacht management companies in the industry.
About five years ago I left to start my own yacht management company and subsequently decided to start Charter Itinerary with Candice.
Which regions/destinations does Charter Itinerary cover?
Worldwide. When we launched, we focused on the most popular charter destinations - effectively the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. We have thousands of destinations in the system, which now includes everything from the Galapagos and Fiji to Croatia and Australia. The data is constantly being updated.
What’s the business model? How does it work?
Charter Itinerary is available as a no commitment, pay per itinerary plan in the form of our Starter plan. For the heavier users, we sell one of two subscription plans called Team and Pro. The service is primarily aimed at charter brokers but it’s available to captains, pursers, charter managers and anybody else in the industry who is tasked with planning yacht itineraries.
The way it works is that the user logs into the Charter Itinerary website, chooses a template and is asked to enter a start date and an end date for their planned trip as well as cruising speed and fuel consumption. They’ll enter the name of the location where the yacht will depart from each morning and where it will need to arrive at the end of each day. Charter Itinerary then provides descriptions of the chosen locations as well as a choice of photographs from our database. These are included in the final itinerary along with an interactive map of the charter route. The process is deliberately quick, clear, and simple. Should the client/other stakeholder want any changes made to the itinerary, these can be instantly done in a few clicks.
How has your service been received by the yachting industry so far?
Extremely well! We were overwhelmed by the positive response we received when we launched it officially on the 1st of July. In that first month, we had 105 companies sign up. It’s been amazing so far. We’re also very conscious of not growing too fast so we avoid teething problems but, certainly, the demand that we’re seeing has validated our efforts to build and launch the service.
What has been the greatest surprise or lesson in the journey so far?
Learning to start with less. The service began as a way for us to solve our own pain points with the itinerary creation process, but we soon realised that in order to achieve our vision for the service, we would need money to finance its future development. We decided that setting it up as a business would be the best way to do this.
The market research that we had to do at the beginning was challenging because the yachting industry is opaque by design. We had to rely on a lot of guesswork and assumptions given how new the service is, and we were adamant that we didn’t want to spend all this time developing a product that nobody wants. So we decided to start with less by launching our prototype for testing, with only limited functionality and data available. The people who got to try the beta absolutely loved it, but were frustrated that it wasn’t ready for actual use yet. This gave us the confidence to move forward with further development.
The other big lesson is to speak to your customers. We make regularly scheduled calls to different customers, where we talk to them about their experience using our service. This makes the customer feel valued and they appreciate it. And it provides us with direct feedback on any changes we need to consider to ensure the service is the best it can be.
On a personal level, what’s a lesser-known fact that would surprise your colleagues?
Candice: I’m obsessed with time travel! I’m actually reading a book right now by Kip Thorne (the American theoretical physicist). I like anything related to time travel movies, machines and books!
Boris: I speak perfect Congolese, which is a language called Lingala, and naturally surprises a lot of Congolese people! When I lived in South Africa, it came in very handy when wanting to get into bars, as most of the bouncers were Congolese I would go up to them and speak in Congolese and it was so funny because you’d get this stern, scary-looking bouncer suddenly get a big smile on his face. I’d always get in and never had to queue!