Many of our clients discover the charms of Greece by sailing in the region on one of the superb luxury yachts available for charter. Mr. Michael Skoulikidis, President of the Greek Yachting Association, is no stranger to promoting yachting in Greece so we asked him to share his insights on the country’s timeless appeal, the successful Mediterranean Yacht Show and his vision for the future of chartering in the region.
Tell us a bit about the luxury yachting charter industry in Greece.
When it comes to chartering a yacht in Greece, clients come from many different countries around the world but primarily from the USA, Russia and Asia. There are many Europeans who own a yacht based in the Mediterranean so there is no real reason for them to charter in our country. They can easily travel to our waters from countries such as Italy, Monaco, France and Spain using their own vessel. At the moment we are seeing a resurgence of Americans who are returning to the eastern Mediterranean, aided by the favorable dollar-to-euro ratio, and I would say that more than 50% of our larger yachts are chartered by Americans. We also have some Russians guests, a few from South American countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Panama, but Asia is definitely the key emerging market. It seems that charterers from China, India and Singapore are finally beginning to discover the beauty of yachting in Greece and those that have actually spent time cruising in Greece are spreading the word.
Why do you think people from Asian countries are so enamoured?
Asian charter guests visit for three basic reasons.
First and foremost, the majority don’t own their own boat – at least not yet. A charter vacation in Greece could probably be their very first yachting adventure. Chartering a yacht offers them a first taste of what yacht life is all about and the opportunity to see if they wish to make an investment in a yacht of their own later on.
Secondly, countries like China and India have a booming economy and a new class of wealthy individuals with a high disposable income. They are eager to discover new destinations and pastimes and as the seas in Asia, apart from the Maldives and Indonesia, don’t offer the best environment for yachting they prefer to visit the Mediterranean.
It is also important to note that many Chinese, Japanese and Indian people have a great affinity with Greece. They are familiar with and respect our ancient history, they appreciate our warm and generous hospitality and generally feel safe in our country. As a result they find a visit to our country both enriching and relaxing.
In your opinion, what makes Greece such a great yachting destination?
Although Greece is a small country we have always been and remain a true paradise for yachting. Having travelled and sailed around the world, I can confidently say that Greece has the optimum conditions: no tides, no sharks, no hostile marine life, no pirates, no hurricanes, and great weather for almost 8 months of the year.
Another key feature of Greece is our clusters of islands. You can spend a week cruising the Cyclades, experiencing the unique architecture, cuisine and culture of Santorini and Mykonos, and then spend the next week cruising the Dodecanese discovering islands with very different characteristics. The same is true of the Ionian islands, the Sporades, the Argosaronic islands, the Northeast Aegean, Crete… many visitors find this hard to believe when we describe it but, when they do manage to experience it, they are simply amazed.
How does Greece compare to the rest of the Mediterranean?
Why might someone choose Greece over France or Italy?
Well, I have lived in the south of France and although I like it greatly, in my opinion, it has very little appeal as a yachting destination. Many of the large yachts do go there but it is for other reasons: for the social scene, nightlife, hotels & restaurants. However, it is not the ideal place for yachting. You spend your time moving from one marina to the next, spending the night with the generator on, with smoke from the neighboring yacht’s generator drifting over, people walking past outside your windows…why would you want to charter a very expensive boat to do this?
For those who are true aficionados of yachting, a marina is not a destination – it’s just a safe place to keep the boat in between exploring the sea.
France and Italy have very few islands but, in Greece, we have thousands. There are hundreds of secluded bays where you can spend the evening alone, enjoying dinner on deck in total privacy…just you, a lot of blue and the moon. It’s ideal.
What is the state of the Greek chartering industry today, and what would you like to see improved?
We are experiencing a boom period. The last 2-3 years have been our best seasons yet. However, I do believe that we could benefit from more organised, private marinas, in order to encourage international yacht owners to leave their vessels in Greece for winterisation. I would also like to see a greater effort made by the public sector as far as the promotion of Greek yachting is concerned. Private companies are already investing quite heavilyin this but we need support from the ministries and government. We also need to work hard towards harmonising legislation regarding yachting throughout the European Mediterranean countries. At the moment, calculating the different rates of VAT, understanding the fuel transit systems and complying with the various terms found between Greece, Italy, Croatia, France etc. can get very confusing – particularly for the non-European visitors who make up the bulk of our charter clients. Aligning our legislation and laws would be a very positive move but, again, this is something that needs the support and power of our government.
The Greek Yachting Association organises the annual Mediterranean Yacht Show in Nafplion. How instrumental do you think MEDYS has been in the recent resurgence of interest in Greece as a yachting destination?
There are three must-visit annual charter shows in the world: Antigua, Barcelona and Nafplion (Greece). Antigua hosts approximately 75 yachts, Barcelona hosts about 55 and Nafplion… 110 yachts in 2018! We have a broad spectrum of boats participating, ranging from 24m to 85m, and international brokers come to inspect and appraise the vessels, interview the crew, taste the chefs’ creations and bond with the charter community. During the show we hold many events designed to promote Greece and its charter industry. The Chefs’ Competition is particularly popular, as the position of chef is one of the most important ones on a yacht and can make or break a charter! We also have on-board lunches, which allow brokers to watch the crew in action, and a number of parties for bonding. I think this is all very important in order to persuade international brokers to promote Greece to their clients.
Do you think the event’s location in Nafplion plays a role in its success?
The MEDYS is a relative newcomer to the charter industry but everybody in the sector is talking about it and wants to attend! I believe that one of the reasons that charter professionals love this particular event is that Nafplion is such a unique destination. Nafplion is a small, picturesque town that once served as the first capital of modern Greece and it offers a combination of natural beauty, historical attractions and exceptional ambience. The residents and local businesses have embraced the MEDYS from the very beginning and we are warmly very welcomed every year. I could say that, for the duration of the show, the whole town lives to the rhythm of the MEDYS. The attending yachts fill the whole port – it can host a maximum of 110 boats and we are already at full capacity – and many say that “showtime” has become the best time of year in Nafplion. Some yacht shows are held in large cities and that means that you might lose the atmosphere – for example, our first show was held in Athens in 2001 and guests didn’t enjoy it as much. After the yacht viewings, attendees disappeared to different corners of the city and networking opportunities were lost. Whereas, in Nafplion, everything is within walking distance. We are all staying in the same hotels, having lunch and dinner together, working and partying together, and bonding in a natural manner.
We also decided to hold the show in May, because the weather conditions are ideal at this time of year and provide guests with a sneak preview of the Greek summer! On a personal level, I always try to spend a week on the water in mid-June as I believe that it is the best period for cruising in Greece. The islands are lively enough but not crowded and, being the beginning of the season, the captains and crew are full of energy and enthusiasm. You also find better prices at this time of year and, perhaps most important of all, the long hours of daylight allow you to maximise your time at sea!
Finally, what is your vision for the future of the charter yacht industry in Greece, and around the world?
I am very positive about the future of the global yachting industry and particularly about the outlook for the Greek charter market, but I believe that we must look to the east for that future! Western countries already have a developed taste for yachting and the majority of superyacht owners are be found in Europe and the US. However, in the east, the market is still emerging and HNWIs in countries such as China and India are at the discovery stage as far as yachting is concerned. Their interest is growing fast and they are becoming increasingly ready (and able) to explore the possibilities. We find that most clients who are considering the purchase of a yacht begin by booking a charter vacation, in order to form a first-hand opinion of what yachting entails, making this a very important market for us. I think the future is bright!