For a minute there, I was excited.
Heck, it's an exciting thing to have a periodical as prominent as SmartMoney compare yacht charter against cruise ships. The magazine is part of the Wall Street Journal organization, has won three National Magazine Awards, and claims a circulation rate base of 800,000 people. That's about 650,000 more people a month than read the largest-circulation U.S. boating magazines. It's a major potential business boost to the great charter yachts available all over the world.
I was thrilled when I saw the headline "Ships: Out, Yachts: In" on Page 70 of the July issue. The subhead is: "More cruise vacationers are bypassing big-ship buffets and waterslides [sic] in favor of more intimate yacht-style sea trips. We look at the trade-offs."
Yes, let's finally see the benefits of yacht charter in black-and-white in a major magazine, I thought as I began reading. And then I turned the pages, growing more depressed by the word, until I threw the article into the trash with disgust.
Author Kristen Bellstrom not only fails to interview a single person involved in the actual crewed yacht charter industry, but also does a thorough job of proving that she doesn't even know the difference between a mini-cruise ship and a charter yacht. She falls into lockstep with the clever lingo of companies that use phrases like "yacht-style" in their marketing materials, all the while simply moving the cruise-ship business model of by-the-cabin bookings onto smaller ships to make them seem more personalized. As her industry expert, Bellstrom quotes a travel agent who refuses to book "small operations" because they lack consistency, with both the author and the travel agent apparently oblivious to the fact that there is an entire global industry of reputable charter brokers whose job is to inspect yachts, interview crew, and ensure standards higher than any cruise ship could ever hope to offer. One might imagine that an author writing a story of this nature might contact, oh, I don't know, a company like Camper and Nicholsons International or Ocean Independence, each of which controls a fleet of more than 100 crewed charter yachts and strives for consistency and brand excellence. But no.
Most egregious to me, though, is that this SmartMoney article paints a portrait of charter yachts as boats where you book a cabin and then get stuck with a bunch of fellow passengers that you might hate. The very last sentence--the one left lingering in readers' minds--is a quotation from a passenger who went on a 16-person boat full of strangers who ended up hostile toward one another. "You're on a small boat," the passenger says. "There's just no way to get away from these people."
Of course, on an actual crewed charter yacht, you cannot book just a single cabin. You book the whole boat, and you invite only the guests of your choosing. This fact, too, appears to be lost on the author and, most unfortunately, the reader.
This type of incomplete, misleading, and irresponsible publishing has serious consequences for the yacht charter industry. I learned of this article from my father, who is a SmartMoney subscriber. (The article does not appear to be viewable on the magazine's website; all I can find is this series of links to mini-cruise ship companies under the headline "Benefits of Yacht Cruising.") My father, after reading the article, told me that he thought it made a good point about people not wanting to get stuck on a little boat with passengers they dislike.
"Dad," I reminded him, "don't you remember when I arranged for our family to go on that 60-foot charter yacht? It was just us. Strangers aren't invited when you charter a real yacht."
"Oh yeah," he replied. "That was a great trip. I wonder why the author of this article didn't mention how that is possible."