Written by Esther Barney
Ian Malouf is an Australian entrepreneur with business interests in waste management and a passion for the luxury yachting lifestyle. Having experienced chartering as a client and guest for many years, in 2015 Malouf acquired the 54-metre Baglietto M/Y Mischief.
Although he sees the yacht as a source of personal and family enjoyment, Malouf treats Mischief as a business and expects to see it returning income through charter activity. Frustrated with what he felt were outdated practises and a lack of embracing technology, Malouf set about challenging the status quo of luxury yacht charter with his newly launching website Ahoy Club, which puts more focus on automation and speed than traditional charter booking experiences.
Luxury services often focus on the notion of a highly personal experience with dedicated one-on-one attention, so it will be interesting to see how those on both sides of the transaction respond to this radical new digital offering. Ocean met with Malouf to find out why he feels it is time to call “anchors aweigh” on how we approach chartering.
As an owner, what was it that inspired you to get involved in the business side of yachting, and in particular chartering?
Having owned and chartered yachts all my adult life, I have seen a lot of change over the years. The advancement in the actual construction technology and effective volume of a superyacht is mind blowing. But, in contrast, technology has not been transferred to make the charter process follow any streamlined manner.
Currently, I believe that booking a superyacht charter is an inefficient, time consuming task with limited selection. The charter process is much harder than it needs to be for all involved and this, in turn, affects the fees charged. I wanted to solve this and make the experience of chartering a yacht quicker, more informative, more fun and a more cost-effective process, so charterers can make the right informed decision for themselves.
From your experiences as a current charter yacht owner and charterer, what did you find lacking on both sides of the transaction?
It is not so much what was lacking, more what could be improved, in particular the timing and selection process. There are a lot of processes that are needlessly manual when chartering a yacht. We have automated all these, and in doing so give the charterers and the yacht owners real-time information they can act on and finalise quickly, easily and without having to stop and take valuable time out of their day.
With Ahoy Club, will you be replacing or competing with charter managers and retail broker?
How does the Club distinguish itself from their current roles and approach?
Ahoy Club is the friend of charter managers, giving them options and better charter management tools to boost the productivity and utilisation of the yachts they manage. The current back-and-forth dance that takes place between charter managers and brokers, with the charterer wedged somewhere in between, takes time and has its difficulties. Ahoy Club streamlines the entire process for all involved.
Ahoy Club definitely wants to work with the retail brokers, albeit it is time they curbed their fees. Some retail brokers have long relationships with their clients; we are not here to break that relationship, we are here to enhance it and add better value to the process.
Ahoy offers part of its modest four percent commission to the retail brokers who wish to book through the platform on behalf of their clients. This takes extensive work and time out of the broker’s current process and offers their client a far more cost-effective experience than before. I believe this type of cooperation and lower costs will bring more charterers to the market, plus it will make owners more open to extending the current summer seasons that are being adopted.
Do you plan to have yacht owner clients coming directly to you to list their yachts for charter?
Yes. Worldwide, the overwhelming majority of yachts are self-managed. Ahoy Club is a peer-to-peer (P2P) platform and owners have control of their yacht’s schedule and pricing. They can post a “special offer” whenever it suits them to get better utilisation of their yacht, for example the Empty Voyage program if a yacht is returning to homeport or next embarkation.
Ahoy also gives owners the ability to offer their superyachts for day trips, which is largely uncommon in dominant superyacht regions like the Mediterranean and Caribbean. Our “Yotswap” feature gives owners the exclusive opportunity to enjoy endless summers, without the unenviable running costs accumulated when sailing their yachts across the world between seasons. We also accept most major credit cards worldwide, as well as regular electronic transfer.
Which target market do you think will be the strongest for you in terms of geographical location?
The Mediterranean region undoubtedly holds the largest charter audience in the world, followed by the Caribbean. The aim with our easy-to-use platform, however, is to dramatically increase the awareness of opportunity in emerging regions as well, such as Australia and the South Pacific.
As an online system, how will the financial and contractual aspects of the booking process work?
We believe the Ahoy Club contract is more in touch with today’s expectations than current ones in place. It covers all parties equally and comprehensively. When funds are received they are held in a trust account. The ability to lodge your deposit via credit card and secure your charter immediately is unique. With Ahoy Club you can book a yacht in less than three minutes, for less than currently marketed because of our fee structure.
Superyacht chartering falls into an ultra-premium market and price bracket, so can a purely technology-based interface replace the current personal levels of service?
Absolutely. People spend large and small amounts of money online every day. This service is no different. The technology is sophisticated and secure. And this is supported by our 24/7 Personalised Concierge Service team. The platform, which will be available in multiple languages, will open new markets that have found the process too difficult in the past.
How can technology be used to reduce fees associated with charter bookings?
That is the entire foundation of the Ahoy Club and it is exactly what we deliver: more choice, more value, more time, more freedom, for less. This is underwritten by wrapping the contracts and all other complexities in a seamless charter booking process. The technology enables direct communication between charterers and the owners once we eliminate the build-up of multiple stakeholders getting caught up in the process. This means charterers could be saving as much as 20 percent in brokerage and VAT savings every charter through Ahoy Club.