Joachim Howard, Founder and Managing Director of leading Australian superyacht agency Ocean Alliance, tells Superyachts.com why he feels that Australia is now a completed jigsaw, and reveals what needs to be done establish it as a new superyacht frontier.
Over coffee on Jones Bay Wharf, where the firm has its Sydney headquarters, Joachim revisits how a shortfall of charter services in Australia led him to set up Ocean Alliance back in 2011. By that time, Howard had already amassed a wealth of experience in the industry, taking him on adventures around the world. From his first exposure to superyachts, working seasonally at Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay, Howard was captivated by the industry. Since then, he has never looked back and has made his way to the top of a ladder that was certainly worth the climb.
During a 7-year stint living in the Mediterranean, Joachim worked through his certifications from a deckhand to Captain, before taking his knowledge into the charter and brokerage fields. Upon returning to Australia, he continued his involvement with superyachts, becoming responsible for importing French and Italian vessels. It was in this capacity that he was exposed to the shortfall of charter and management services in the country, when a client wanted to use their yacht commercially.
“At that point in 2011/12,” reflects Joachim, “there were very few yachts based in Australia that were available for charter to an international standard. This owner wanted to operate commercially, and I’d had extensive experience with charter yachts in the Med. I realised no companies were servicing that model here in Australia in terms of acting as a Central Agent, managing yachts for charter through the accredited MYBA network. So that really was the trigger point to start Ocean Alliance.”
The yacht in question, 37m Masteka 2, is still under the management of Ocean Alliance, but much has changed since then. Howard’s firm is now the Central Agent for a 13-strong fleet of superyachts, and services an international clientele in everything from new build, purchase, sale and management. The Special Recreational Vessels Bill introduced in December has given a massive boost to the industry by opening up the local charter market to foreign owned yachts. Having worked closely with Superyacht Australia to end a two decade long wait for this change in legislation, Joachim is expecting a steady increase in superyacht migration to the region, bringing inevitably larger yachts. Many superyachts, he believes, had previously missed out Australia because of these restrictions.
“The feedback we were receiving for the low visitation numbers was because there was no opportunity for an owner to be able to engage in charter while they’re here,” Howard explains. “I don’t think it would ever be the driving reason for an owner to bring a yacht to Australia, but it is definitely a very big upside to visit the country, complete a refit, and now have the opportunity to charter. It was the one piece of the equation we were missing.”
The case studies of other South Pacific destinations such as Tahiti and Fiji demonstrate that relaxing legislation on charter does lead to sustained growth in visitation, and for Australia it will inevitably mean an influx of larger yachts. “It’ll shed much more of a spotlight on the destination. The local fleet that we have here in Australia is limited to 40m, our sweet spot for local vessels here to charter being in the 30-40m category. We know that there is an appetite and demand for much larger yachts.”
Howard is confident that this development will lift business for both local and international yachts, rather than coming at the expense of Australian-owned vessels on the market. “It will encourage the market to look more closely at the destination and allow a much wider choice for the client. That’s important to build traction, and in turn, it will assist local yachts with more of that interest-based in Australia.”
Just as efforts to inspire a de jure change weren’t without their challenges, translating this into the desired success will not happen overnight. A great deal of the delay was caused by a need to shift government thinking from revolving around superyacht owners, to understanding the much wider benefits to businesses involved in the extensive supply chain. Currently, infrastructure projects around the country are in progress to meet the requirements of larger yachts, and more are due to be announced over the course of the year as shipyards and marinas will look to capitalise on the opportunity. Infrastructure, along with putting together more detailed charter itineraries, will be crucial to the development of the industry over the coming years.
“There’s a large percentage of clients who charter yachts and haven’t experienced these destinations,” says Joachim, as he contemplates the potential yet to be reached by Australia. “I think the whole area is undiscovered. The geographic landscape in Australia is so variable, from the Great Barrier Reef down to Tasmania, and then you have regions like the Kimberley’s.” The task facing Joachim and his team at Ocean Alliance is to handpick from all of these in order to create bespoke experiences tailored to their clients.
“Everything we do is honing in on what the particular individual is looking for through the experience. You could be chartering in The Whitsundays where islands surround you, but you’re also supported by some high-end resorts and tourism facilities. Other clients want to be sitting on one of the outer reefs on the Great Barrier Reef with absolutely nothing around because their criteria is spearfishing and diving; they might not want to see another yacht. Then there are areas like the Kimberley’s which is wildly different, it’s cultural and some of the most breath-taking landscape in the world.”
“Some of those experiences are so very different and incredible, and the proximity to some of those South Pacific destinations I think makes it a new frontier.”
When speaking of a ‘new frontier’, Howard has somehow found a way to summarise the endless possibilities that the country presents to superyacht owners. It isn’t just about Australia’s phenomenal location, a central base where only a short passage can transport you to the remote island worlds of New Caledonia and Fiji. It’s everything from the world class shipyard and refit facilities across the country, to the bespoke luxury lodges all immersed in the country’s unrivalled natural beauty. As Joachim remarks, “it’s now just about how we join those dots.”