Seafarer Holidays’ managing director Chris Lorenzo talks to Harry Kemble about the niche yachting market and the origins of the agency/operator.
Q. How did you get into travel?
A. The first job that I got out of university was with Club 18-30 as a manager in Corfu. I was the right age for that sort of thing. In those days, Club 18-30 wasn’t quite as notorious as it became. I went on to work for tour operators including Zenith, which collapsed after six months, and Sunsail.
Q. When did you set up Seafarer Holidays?
A. While I was working at Sunsail I thought ‘why not do this myself?’ I had been fortunate to hold senior positions with tour operators, large and small, so knew my market well. Knowing the destinations and having the right contacts, it was a no-brainer. I started putting everything together in 1994 and we got our Atol licence in 1995.
Q. Tell us about your business.
A. Seafarer Holidays is a combination of both an agency and a tour operator. We are a yachting specialist in the broadest sense of yachting, and we sell through agents. At the small end of the spectrum, think flotilla sailing, and in the bigger sense, think mega yacht operator Variety Cruises. We are the general sales agent for Variety Cruises in the UK. We call Variety Cruises’ fleet mega yachts rather than small ships. Because we sell niche products we rarely sell online; more than 90% of sales are over the phone. Maybe it is down to the fact that our clients are middle aged. They have no qualms about speaking to people on the phone. We have around a dozen office staff in London.
Q. What are your standout products?
A. Our small ship cruises and mega-yacht holidays have been selling very well. We have seen an increase in bookings of private yachts with crews. These are vessels, such as catamarans, with four to six cabins and deluxe motor yachts that clients can take anywhere. We have just shy of 50 staff overseas: sailing instructors, flotilla charters and staff who work at our beach clubs in Greece – Nikiana and Kefalos. The beach clubs offer dinghy sailing and windsurfing. Variety Cruises, which sails to the Seychelles, Iceland, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, southeast Asia and Greece, is our number one ‘cruise’ product.
Q. How have recent sales been?
A. We have had to work very hard for our bookings but are trading at the same level as last year. Greece has been an absolute sell out, but some of the long-haul destinations, such as Bali, have been hard.
Q. How has Seafarer thrived for so long?
A. We are all things yachting. We have longstanding relationships with suppliers across a range of destinations. Our biggest supplier is Dream Yacht Charter, which has over taken Sunsail as the biggest yacht operator in the world. We have got better over time, but we do not have a monopoly. There is certainly competition. We are small enough to offer a personal service. We have the knowledge and experience to make it work.
Q. What new products have you got on the way?
A. Variety Cruises has introduced The Islands of Paradise cruise sailing from Bali and also cruises in Borneo and Thailand sailing from Phuket. The line is also returning to the Red Sea in 2021. We hope to be in a position to announce construction of a new ship in the very near future, so watch this space! In terms of our sailing product, we are working on another beach club in the Peloponnese in Greece. We are launching a flotilla product in the Greek Isles, featuring the islands of the Saronic Gulf and a transit of the spectacular Corinth Canal. With five flotillas in Greece, two in Croatia as well as Turkey and the South of France, Seafarer offers the widest choice of flotilla destinations in the industry.
‘Our industry is leading the way’
The need to be sustainable is growing and our industry is leading the way. Everyone has been making huge strides. Being a sailor myself I am conscious of the gas-guzzling gin palaces that whizz past.
We are also a bit closer to the sea and notice changes and how we see fewer dolphins and turtles, although we have seen a bit of a recovery of late. The Blue Planet has been incredibly influential. There are a lot more people asking about sustainability. When we talk about sustainability in our newsletter, the open rate quadruples. We have seen that over the last 12 months.
We have also introduced a carbon offset option at the point of purchase. We provide a recommendation for short haul and long haul and encourage people to purchase carbon offset. We are in the process of removing single-use plastics and have virtually removed everything, but it won’t be complete until the end of next year. It’s our last flotilla next month and our crew has volunteered to clear all the rubbish off the seabed in two harbours in Greece – Frikes and Kiòni.