Boat Charters and the Coronavirus

Published on April 30th, 2020

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
These are tough times for tourism as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought travel to a near standstill. With health guidelines keeping us at home, the industries directly affected have had to assess how best to deal with their customers.

While airlines and hotels tend to show significant flexibility, I’m curious what experiences people are having with the boat charter industry. Personally, I’m feeling unloved.

Getting from California to the Caribbean eats up a lot of time, so it’s not a vacation I do often enough, but this year is my 30th wedding anniversary so we had chartered a boat from Dream Yacht Charter for St. Vincent & The Grenadines in May. We were pumped!

But just when we were to make our final payment by the March deadline, it was becoming clear our dream trip was at risk. By March 31, Dream Yachts sent this update:

“Given the State Department’s current advisory to not travel, we have taken the proactive step of putting your booking into reschedule status. This booking is now eligible for reschedule by the end of 2020, or by your prior dates in 2021 (May 8-May 16). If your new charter is more expensive, you will see that balance due. If it’s less expensive, there will be no refunds given.”

Aside from us not having any other time available in 2020 to go, if Caribbean charter rates during hurricane season (June 1 through November 30) are less than in May, we are forced to overpay, and December rates can be more than we planned to spend. Hmm…

As for moving it to 2021, they either wanted our balance payment of $4200 now or charge an $850 change fee. We were fine with scheduling the trip next year, but not so fine with funding Dream Yachts a year in advance. What if they go out of business?

With the U.S. Department of State advising U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19, and no known date at which this order will be lifted, I would love a refund but that option is not on the table. We could also do nothing and lose our $1500 deposit.

Should I be happy with these options? Anybody else have a boat charter impacted by the pandemic? Send your story to editor@sailingscuttlebutt.com.

More: I should add there were no industry discounts involved; this was full retail. I prefer the ‘customer treatment’ to better assess a company…

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