The lockdown in large parts of Europe has the charter industry firmly under control. Customers are worried about their trips, some of which have already been booked and paid for, while fleet operators are struggling to survive in the face of longer and longer closures and the corresponding loss of income. Many customers are not clear about their legal situation with regard to a contract that has already been concluded. Going it alone by countries such as Italy and France creates additional confusion. There the governments have meanwhile overturned the EU-wide travel law and decided on voucher solutions instead of repayment of the monies. In Germany, too, the government now wants to make this possible and has submitted a corresponding proposal to the EU, which is to be decided soon.
But what many charter customers do not know: Most bookings do not fall under travel law, but under tenancy law, at least if a normal bareboat charter is booked. Then the charter agency is only an intermediary and not a tour operator, the fleet operator is a landlord. Nevertheless, companies in Italy and France rely on these solutions from their governments and offer charter customers only a voucher solution instead of a refund, usually until the 2021 season.
So far, German lawyers have interpreted the situation that a charter prevented the destination country or Germany from being banned from entering the country, so that this makes it impossible for the contract to come about and therefore the money paid should generally be reimbursed. At least that was the experience of the Mosel Ben Tanis law firm, which represents various such cases. This has partly changed. The lawyers' experience shows that fleet operators sometimes stubbornly hold on to voucher solutions.
Flight cancellations are difficult to predict
There is also the problem of flights. At the moment, only around 10 to 20 percent of the normal volume is left at many airports. So many charter customers do not know whether their flight will actually take place on the planned date and destination.
"In our experience, the airlines often cancel their flights at very short notice, sometimes only a few days before the charter," says ClaudiSpenges-Kleutges from the Sarres-Schockemöhle agency. One has the feeling that a lot of people are basically working their way from week to week in order to be able to fly at short notice if the travel restrictions are relaxed "- an extremely unsatisfactory one for customers who then cannot come to their charter yacht at short notice Solution. Airlines too often try to offer customers a voucher solution instead of reimbursement of costs. In their experience, many airlines can currently hardly be reached by phone, agencies and customers are well advised to make their inquiries in writing.
When does the season start where?
The most pressing question for charter crews is currently, which trips should I try to postpone or even cancel? Without a doubt, customers in Germany currently have the best cards.
"We have a statement from the state of Schleswig-Holstein that the port closings will be relaxed after May 3rd. Of course, it is not yet entirely clear whether charter crews will be allowed to start then, but we hope that it will work by Whitsun. Then our fleet will be fully booked ", says Dirk Kadach from 1st class yachts. The Heiligenhafener have already made provisions: They have stored huge stocks of disinfectants and protective masks in order to be able to handle handovers of yachts according to stricter requirements on the jetties if necessary. " Europe can start again. "For the locations of the firm Croatia and on Palm, he sees this much more critically, is preparing for a start to the season probably after the high season.
It looks much worse in the Mediterranean. France has extended his lockdown until May 15th, Spain until May 11th, Italy initially until May 3rd. To Croatia German tourists are currently practically unable to travel at all, as they would have to be in quarantine at a fixed address on land for 14 days after crossing the border. It is very likely that unlimited tourism will continue to apply to curfews well after these key dates. Easing the curfew should not be confused with an immediate release of tourism.
This is how the Swedish fleet operator reports Navigare Yachting to the YACHT that, in consultation with the local authorities, longer periods for tourism have already been set, but these are also continuously being postponed. According to the Swedes, this date is in Croatia and Greece currently on May 18th, for Spain on June 19th.
This is how the fleet operators react
Some fleet operators are already reacting accordingly. Sunsail and Moorings have generally canceled all charter trips until June 1st and are offering vouchers. Many other companies react on a weekly basis or even more flexibly. You are currently rebooking customers primarily with departures for May upon customer request. General cancellations or constantly updated deadlines are the exception. Like the airlines, the companies are waiting and will open the bases as soon as the restrictions are relaxed.
Dream Yacht Charter, currently the largest charter operator worldwide, offers extensive rebooking options. Anyone who has booked by May 16 can postpone this or next year. Those who booked later can also postpone them, but for bookings in 2021 they have to bear the expected price increase for next year. If the charter week is more expensive than the current one, perhaps because it is in the high season, the additional price must be paid.
The Swedish company, which is also active worldwide Navigare Yachting also tries to favor the rebooking solution, but pays back the charter in individual cases if there is an explicit travel warning for the respective country. In Germany, this is currently the case for all countries worldwide until May 3rd.
So far, many agents have reported that the affected customers are reacting very prudently and also understand the difficult situation of the fleet operators. Because the latter have to bear the costs for the fleets, pay berths, carry out maintenance, operate insurance and try to keep their employees. All of this becomes difficult when customers want the money paid back immediately. The efforts to get customers to rebook are more than understandable, and customers should try to find a solution in the DIalog, after all, it is an emergency of the century. When asked by YACHT, some agents put the number of customers who insist on repayment, but only around 5 percent, which gives rise to hope. If you absolutely need the fastest possible reimbursement of a canceled charter for economic reasons, you can apparently find a solution more quickly with a lawyer, as some law firms report.
Most sailors nevertheless rebook, more and more to the next year, because the employers of the sailors cannot simply postpone the holidays or it is foreseeable that their company will try to make up losses after the crisis with extra work. Even after the travel restrictions have been eased, the charter industry will face hard times until the end of the year, and the market will certainly only pick up slowly.