|Broker Interview: Laura Berton of Churchill Yacht Partners|
Laura Berton is the newest retail charter broker with Churchill Yacht Partners. I caught up with her just after the Fort Lauderdale and Virgin Islands boat shows to learn about her background, get her take on the current state of the charter market and more.
How did you learn about the yachting industry?
I grew up in Dallas, Texas, and vacationed a few times a year in Mexico in the early 1990s. I was taken aback by the beautiful ocean and boats. I just fell in love with it all and knew one day I wanted to live a life on the water, but didn’t know how to go about it.
I started seeing sportfishing boats, and the yachts got bigger and bigger every time I went back there. It took about five or six years of dreaming about it, and then finally I saw a female stewardess, and I asked her, “How do you do this? Where do you go? What do you do?”
I had been an escrow officer for a title company, then I was in real-estate asset management, and I sold it all to go work on boats. I hated working in Dallas with no ocean. I was young with no husband and no kids, and I thought, “This is it.” I haven’t looked back since.
What was your experience working aboard yachts?
From 2000 until 2008, I was a stewardess on private motoryachts from 130 to 190 feet long. I also did freelance work toward the end of that career so I could be based out of Fort Lauderdale. When I got off boats, I stayed in Fort Lauderdale and worked at The Sacks Group Yachting Professionals, where I was a receptionist. I soaked in everything, sharpened up my computer skills and became an assistant to charter brokers Barbara Stork Landeweer and Jennifer Saia. I couldn’t have asked to have better examples of how this business operates.
When The Sacks Group merged with International Yacht Collection, I remained their assistant and became the assistant to even more brokers. I was the nucleus of the charter department, working for all of those leading brokers.
Earlier this year, in July 2014, Churchill Yacht Partners gave me a chance to become a full-time retail broker myself. I just love it. It’s too much fun. I am so thrilled to have this opportunity.
You’re just back from the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show and the British Virgin Islands charter show in Tortola. How did business seem for the upcoming winter charter season?
The Christmas/New Year chartered yachts have all been booked ranging from $10,000 to $200,000 a week. All of my “favorite” yachts that I recommend to my clients are booked! I have never seen the charter Industry so hot. I have heard about “the good old days” where charter brokers were so busy they couldn’t keep up with all of the inquiries, but now I am experiencing it.
And it’s not just for this winter; I have a May 2015 charter that I’m trying to book, and all of the top catamarans in the Virgin Islands that I just saw at the Tortola show are already booked for then too.
At Fort Lauderdale, I had clients with me at the show, and based on what they saw at the show, we were able to sign a contract. The market is that hot right now. Business is booming. Anyone wanting to charter a top yacht really needs to start looking a year ahead, to get the good chartered yachts before they are booked for summer 2015 and next winter.
While you’ve spent a lot of years getting to know larger motoryachts in the Caribbean, this year was your first visit to Tortola to see the entry-level Virgin Islands yachts. What did you think?
I was really, really impressed with the catamarans in the show. Even though these boats are 60 or 70 feet long, they’re so beamy that they feel like much larger boats. They really are gorgeous, spacious boats. I was also really impressed with the crew, who are mostly couples. They worked so hard and did such a great job as a team. On bigger yachts, the crew are so departmentalized that it’s not the same kind of feeling.
What is next on your agenda?
I specialize in the Caribbean, the Bahamas and New England, and I’ll be attending the Genoa, Italy, Poros, Greece, and Monaco boat shows next year to become knowledgeable about booking the Mediterranean market this summer. So clients can come to me for anything but bareboats, in all the top charter destinations of the world.
Is there anything else you want CharterWave readers to know about you as a new charter broker?
I couldn’t imagine calling myself a charter broker and not doing it the way I did, to pay your dues. After being crew for eight years, then an assistant to some of the best charter brokers for six years, I feel I have put in the hours to fly solo. I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way!
I feel like I have a lot more to offer clients who are looking for a new broker. I’m excited about this new job, and I’m ready to help people book fantastic vacations.
To contact Laura Berton, visit the Churchill Yacht Partners website.