The 2020 summer season in the Adriatic was undeniably a full-on endurance test for both the superyacht agents and the crews on ships. Imagine a six-month-long charter. Working every day, very long hours. Then multiply that workload with 10, as we usually have 10 clients at any given moment, all of them being equally important to us and equally demanding. That is the story of every single person in our team. No days off, no inconvenient time for your call. Clients before friends, family, and even children.
Not exactly a dream workplace in everyone’s mind. But we beg to differ. We thrive on coming up with the perfect solution to every problem our clients may be facing, we are keen to be the ones raising the standards in the superyacht agency operations, to be a synonym for excellence, not only in the Adriatic but in the industry, and to work only for the best of the best.
Unlike in many destinations, 2020 was an exceptional year for yachting in the Adriatic. For A+ Yachting, it was yet another great year of growth and new records. We have reached our five-year goals in three years, we have been awarded the title of the Best Adriatic Agent by Superyacht Business Awards, and most importantly, we have managed to maintain the quality of our services even in these unprecedented circumstances.
When Croatia opened its borders to all crew members and passengers on May 11, it instantly became the hottest destination in the Mediterranean, despite still chilly weather at that time. The season started at least one month earlier than anticipated. Needless to say, at A+ Yachting, we were relieved and extremely grateful to still have our jobs, unlike many other tourism and yachting businesses across the Med. However, we were not entirely aware of the challenges we were about to face.
The first of many challenges was to send a clear and unequivocal message to all captains, charter and management companies that Croatian borders are open to all yacht guests and crews. The hardest part was convincing charter brokers that it is safe to sign charter contracts and that Croatia is planning on keeping its borders open.
The second one was to assure various airline companies across the globe that travelers will be able to enter and stay in Croatia, and would not be deported upon arrival. There were several quite stressful situations with airport staff for transiting crews, despite piles of paperwork provided by the vessels and agents. The South African and Australian airport staff were probably the most difficult to deal with, requiring daily communication with Croatian Embassies in those countries, multiplying the amount of administration for the agents, and, consequently causing a lot of stress. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Another serious challenge was communicating the sky-rocketing prices of the PCR test in Dubrovnik. At 416 euro per person, the PCR test in Dubrovnik was easily the most expensive in Europe. With clients changing 20+ crew members at the same time, some boats requiring even two PCR tests per person, the managements were furious. There were other options, including testing in public medical facilities in Pula or Split, even Dubrovnik, but they did not allow sufficient flexibility over timing and testing venue. However, the Port of Dubrovnik had one competitive advantage over other locations – the possibility to access the airport runway and collect guests directly from the airplane. No other port in Croatia could beat that. All of a sudden, we had quite a few 100+ m yachts anchored in Cavtat. My heart was full. 😊 Croatia has become a true superyacht destination.
Two weeks after the borders’ opening, we had a clear picture of the most common problems, and we had established standard responses, procedures, and documents inside the company on how to resolve each of them. The amount of paperwork for crew changes was still insane, but crew embarkation/disembarkation schedules, and all the PCR testing involved, were perfectly handled by our amazing Vilma and Daniela. Over 300 crew changes, and not one mix-up with drivers, made us so proud of our admin team.
Just when it looked like it is going to be a smooth sailing onwards, the new onboard delivery protocols were introduced. Some yachts required “simple sanitization” of anything delivered to the crew, while others had more complicated logistics, some involving using cranes to lift and place pallets on ships, to minimize crew contact with the onshore staff. While such requests were completely justified, they added to our workload, and the agents were already exhausted by the end of June. We were hoping things would get easier in July.
Then the notorious July 11 arrived. Unexpectedly, on July 10 at 7 pm, the Croatian National COVID-19 response body announced that starting from midnight that very night all non-EU passengers coming to Croatia will be required a negative PCR test. No additional explanations, no information on what to do with the travelers already on their way to the country. At that moment, we had 36 non-EU guests in the air, one of the largest yachts in the world on its way, all arriving the next day. Every one of the 36 guests had been told there would be no obstacles for them to enter the country. The yacht with 60+ crew members arriving to receive its guests, and we do not know if the yacht will be quarantined for two weeks. No one had the answer. And it was Saturday, the worse one we had ever had.
But good things sometimes do happen to the good people, and, long story short, there was a happy ending to this drama, thanks to some great and reasonable decision-makers in the Croatian administration. Most importantly, the crew and the guests remained unaware of this yet another hasty decision that 2020 has been abounded with worldwide.
That, however, was not the end of our struggles. Then we had to persuade the authorities to allow PCR testing of the crew members and passengers upon arrival, agree on the conditions under which it will be done, and it took us five days to get the procedure officially approved. Five days is a long period in the yachting world and more than enough to completely remove a yachting destination from the itinerary. All yachts planning to come to Montenegro to get fuel and supplies have already changed their sailing routes, and Montenegro as a superyacht destination suffered a major blow. Later, in early September, the situation in Montenegro improved significantly, but a little too late to make up for the lost three months of summer.
All the while, Croatia was pretty much the new Côte d’Azur. Of course, only by the number of yachts sailing along its shore 😊, everything else was the same old, same old.
The crew and captains were already accustomed to all the limitations of the destination, the major one being provisioning. We were not worried about the clients on 80+ meter yachts, their budgets allowed them periodic deliveries from France and the Netherlands, the necessary practice we had been established at the very beginning of the season. However, this was an issue for those yachts with limited budgets. High demand and reduced supply resulted in extremely high prices. Perhaps this was the biggest problem we have faced this season, and one we could not solve in the short term. Such yachts would get most of the supplies in Montenegro, where the prices were usually about 30% lower than elsewhere in the region. As a responsible company, we carry out post-seasonal analysis every year to get insight into the past season’s successes and shortcomings and plan for the future. Providing stable, well-priced, and top-quality provisioning services for yachts is one of our top priorities for 2021.
Despite all the challenges, our guests will remember 2020 as an extraordinary year in which they found refuge and a safe harbor in Croatia, a country that welcomed them with open arms, without severe restrictions, and gave them a sense of the “old normal.Yes, traditional tours have been replaced by new ones, and the crews were more actively involved in the planning, as they often took the roles of tour guides. Individual biking routes, diving and hiking tours, and visits to Krka waterfalls VIP-style were popular choices. Our guides, drivers, and other entertainment staff adapted to the new situation easily. All of them perfectly happy to provide negative PCR tests and their services to those guests and crews who did not mind mingling on the shore. Courtesy of our wonderful clients, we bring you a couple of photos from a few fantastic anchorages, where the crew managed to organize private events for their guests.
We would like to once again take the opportunity to thank everyone who chose A+ Yachting in 2020. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have such wonderful clients. We appreciate you for standing by us. You will find us next season in this very same place, only wiser and even better. We look forward to having you with us again.