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Lifestyle For Hire

Lifestyle For Hire

The Gold Coast and Moreton Bay areas are spoiled for choice when it comes to breathtaking islands, bays and waterways. So, it should not be surprising that they are also home to one of Australia’s busiest charter boat hubs. Interested in learning to sail on the sparkling Broadwater? Looking for a luxurious cruise out to the Tangalooma Wrecks? Or perhaps, just wanting to relax with some great food and music while the multi-million dollar mansions of Gold Coast’s waterways roll by? There are dozens of local charter operators carving out successful markets for themselves.

In contrast to the smaller boat hire operators where you are unlikely to get anything more than the keys and a map, the luxury charter boats are always equipped with expert crews, dedicated to ensuring the service is just as spectacular as the water views. And as you would expect with any luxury market, the sky is the limit when it comes to how much you can spend. It is possible to enjoy an evening on a breathtaking $90 million-dollar motor yacht, but you may need to take out another mortgage on your house to raise the money for the $80,000 bill.

Naturally, there are many more affordable, yet still extravagant, options. Charters for parties, such as hen’s nights and engagements, as well as corporate events, are some of the more common choices. Depending on the number of guests, most party charter prices range from $600 to $1,000 per hour. Learning to sail, or enjoying a cruise on one of the smaller yachts is probably one of the cheapest ways to enjoy chartering with prices ranging from $150 to $300 per hour.

Gold Coast operators declare they were all experiencing healthy growth in their charter businesses, no doubt in part because of the large volume of visiting tourists. “I’d say the business is in really good shape,” enthuses Peter Woodrick, owner of The Lady, a majestic 190-person charter boat. “And if not, it’s only because they don’t know how to market their businesses properly. There are so many people who live up here and just love the water. Some want to go past the Sundale Bridge and see the rich-and-famous homes. Others want to head up to Tipplers to enjoy the island atmosphere. And some tourists just want to sit back and relax as the gorgeous scenery rolls by.” Peter was a former pub owner who sold his business, then decided to just add water and try his hand at a floating pub.

While the luxury motor yacht charters that cater to large volumes of visitors are lucrative options, carving out a smaller niche can be an equally successful strategy. Terry Naug, owner of Sail Gold Coast, says, “From the sailing point of view, there aren’t a lot who do it – probably just four of us on the Coast. We’ve got a 28-foot mono sailing yacht, and our focus is purely sailing. We do a lot of learning-to-sail sessions, and we teach people how to prepare for charters in the Whitsundays. But we also do recreational sunset cruises and engagement parties. The three-hour learn-to-sail would be our most popular though.”

In Brisbane and Moreton Bay, the charter industry is steady and growing. However, it also comes with its challenges, mainly due to the area not being as popular a tourist destination as the Gold Coast.

Darren Voigtlander, manager of Brisbane Yacht Charters, explains, “There’s certainly been a constant stream of business during the eight years I’ve been operating. But it’s still a struggle for Brisbane to be seen as a worthwhile destination for international tourists. We come up against that challenge, time and time again. Australia has so much to see that Brisbane is largely forgotten about.”

Industry veteran Ben Stark, manager of Sail Away, echoes similar challenges operating in Moreton Bay, “I started off with one leased boat back in 1994, and built it up to the six boats we have now – three charters and three bares. Moreton Bay is pretty tough to work in though. We focus on the learning-to-sail market. But there are so many other activities competing for tourists’ attention. I find most of our business comes from older people getting into it – who are financially stable, in their 50s, and have always dreamt of learning to sail.”

The rapidly growing Chinese tourism market has provided many opportunities for those charter businesses that are correctly positioned to cater for them. Brisbane River & Moreton Bay Cruises sales manager, Darby Nash, explains, “Wealthy Chinese clients like the prestige of luxury yachts, and we have arranged several charters for them in Brisbane and the Gold Coast. However, there is a language and cultural understanding that for which you need to be equipped.”

Many charter operators conducting business with Chinese tourists generally prefer shorter one- to two-hour cruises. They also prefer to have Chinese-speaking guides, which remain a challenge for many of them, especially for the more technical learning-to-sail market.

While one would expect foreign tourists to be the main clients of the charter businesses, operators disclose that the majority are actually ‘locals’. “The bulk of our business comes from locals living within 200 km of the Gold Coast,” explains Steve Buckley, who operates Sailing in Paradise. “The locals are generally looking to do something different. They charter a boat on the Gold Coast to see the pristine beaches, or a luxury catamaran sailing over the crystal clear waters. However, we do also get a lot of people coming up from Sydney and Melbourne for hen’s nights, especially. Our boat can take up to 30 people, and our boat’s quite open, so everyone can see each other which gives it a really social and relaxed atmosphere.”

It is not surprising that even locals are consistently surprised at the natural beauty on offer in the region’s abundant marine parks. “We often get feedback from interstate people, either visiting or who have recently moved here, on how beautiful the bay is. The Brisbane River has a wonderful backdrop and is undeniably the highlight of the city, and the waterways of the Gold Coast are postcard pretty,” relates Darby Nash.

It is estimated that up to 70% of local Gold Coasters have not been out on Moreton Bay. This offers plenty of room left for growth.

The charter boat businesses are looking forward to a growing future for the industry in the Moreton Bay and Gold Coast regions. Huge international events, like the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and infrastructure development are always considered boons for their business. Each operator has opinions and suggestions on how the charter boat industry can improve even more.

Peter Woodrick opines that the proposed international shipping terminal will bring more business to the Gold Coast. “I think the shipping terminal would be great, and it would bring more people and business to the Gold Coast,” he says. “People are denying it, but it will come. I think it’s the best thing for the Gold Coast. Our country is the most underpopulated island in the world. The new terminal would be good for everyone. Visitors would spend their money when they get off the boats and they’d get to see the best spot in Australia.”

While infrastructure development is identified by some operators as a key to improving tourism on the Gold Coast, increased government focus and spending on marketing is seen as important for the growth of Brisbane tourism. “Brisbane just isn’t an internationally recognised tourist destination yet,” says Terry Naug. “Overseas people know about the Gold Coast, Byron Bay and Noosa, but Brisbane and Moreton Bay are still very underdeveloped and not sold well. Local councils are trying their best. But they are too many and they are too fractured to be able to work effectively together to promote it as a tourist destination.”

Darby Nash pinpoints the need to improve government regulation to allow Brisbane to better serve the demands of the market, and to fill the gaps. “The Brisbane CBD area needs greater access for commercial vessels to pull into pontoons to allow the market to continue to grow. On the Gold Coast, there is a gap between budget boats and high-end luxury vessels. We often have clients travel up to Moreton Bay to take a charter because the right vessel for them is not on the Gold Coast.”

Although the charter market is well established locally, there are still lessons we can take from other markets, such as Sydney. “Brisbane should look to Sydney to see the potential number of vessels that can operate commercially,” explained Darby Nash. The huge numbers of international tourists and iconic beauty of Sydney Harbour make it a very busy charter market, yet it runs very smoothly.

And as surprising as it sounds, adopting NSW’s daylight savings may have knock-on benefits for the local charter market. Ben Stark pointed out that because of the later sunset timing in NSW, “You can’t beat a twilight sailing charter in Sydney because someone can get off from work and be at the marina at 5pm, and still get three hours of sailing before dark, which is just not something we’re about to do up here.”

But if there is one thing all the charter operators agreed the Gold Coast has over any other market, it is the weather. You cannot beat 300 days of sunshine!

 

By Narayan Pattison

 

 

(May-Aug2017)

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