Megayacht News Radio Podcast With Tom Mukamal of IGY Marinas on the Future of Yacht Shows
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(voiceover), Diane Byrne, Tom Mukamal
Welcome to Megayacht News Radio, the first and longest running podcast series dedicated to the larger yacht industry, hosted by Diane Byrne, the editor of MegayachtNews.com. We feature conversations with engaging and inspiring people in yachting, from shipyard CEOs, to designers, from yacht managers, to young entrepreneurs. And yes, even owners. You’ll learn how they got into yachting, how they’re building better businesses, and especially how they’re helping people like you get more enjoyment out of the yachting lifestyle.
Diane Byrne 00:49
Welcome everyone to Megayacht News Radio. Today, my guest is Tom Mukamal, the CEO of IGY Marinas. Tom’s strong background in real estate hospitality has helped shape IGY Marinas’ portfolio of destinations throughout North and Central America as well as Europe. He and his team have more recently been taking a look at yacht shows. In fact, they believe that now is the prime time to reinvent the traditional show model so that both the industry and consumers alike will benefit more. We’re going to talk about this today since one particular IGY Marinas property is already being leveraged to make it happen, in the inaugural Caribbean Yacht Show coming up this December. So Tom, welcome to Megayacht News Radio.
Tom Mukamal 01:41
Thanks for having me.
Diane Byrne 01:43
Good to have you. So I want to start–before we jump into the show itself, I want to talk a little bit about the Caribbean and kind of use that as a lead in to what, you know, the meat of our discussion is going to be. The Caribbean is perennially popular. You know that, we know that because we’ve been in the business a long time. Long time cruisers, of course, know that because they return year after year, whether they’re the owners or the charter guests, etc. But there are newcomers, of course, who are in our industry, and they are now visiting for the first time–a number of them, I believe–so what do you and your team hear from them in terms of the attraction, you know, what is really drawing them to the region? Is it anything different compared to the people who’ve been going for years?
Tom Mukamal 02:30
Um, you know, what we’re hearing, we hear from a lot of different stakeholders. So, you know, we speak to brokers, managers, clients, some of our investors who are also users, captains. I think that part of it is that there are a lot of new entrants into the market. And so this is just one sort of other like, you know, traditional historical place to go. A lot of them have travelled to the Caribbean before anyway, but probably on land or have chartered before. And I think that, you know, what we’re seeing the biggest change we’ve seen in the past, you know, 18 months, largely has been around the popularity of the US Caribbean, just in the context of COVID. So, you know, the, the marinas in St. Thomas, I would expect some of the ones in Puerto Rico in general have been busier than they had been, historically, and they have been busy, but, and the sort of ease of cruising and us waters during COVID, I think got people more excited and more interested around what the US Caribbean has to offer. Versus, you know, some of the more traditional BVI, Western French West Indies, Southern Caribbean kind of routes to charter or to just cruise. I think it’s, it’s just been a kind of a change. And sometimes Change is hard to come by. And this was sort of forced on people and you know, sometimes change is good.
Diane Byrne 04:02
Yeah, very true. Very true. That actually is the perfect setup to the next question I was going to ask you, which is specifically the US Virgins. Yacht Haven Grande, being in St. Thomas, since you mentioned it, has had a role to play in all of this attracting new people, of course. What are you finding with the people who are going there in particular? Are they already familiar with St. Thomas? And did they already know about the marina? Or are they discovering it, really, with very fresh eyes?
Tom Mukamal 04:30
I think a lot of people are discovering St. Thomas and sort of the US Virgin Islands at large for the first time, or they’re experiencing it differently, just because of necessity. So to hit on the former, I just think there’s there’s people that have maybe either by boat or by land chosen to go to other locations, either by reputation or just, you know, because St. Thomas may not have always been the first choice of a place to go And, you know, COVID has forced people to rethink kind of what their travel habits and travel patterns are. And so a lot of what people don’t know about St. Thomas, they’ve discovered, which is there are some amazing beaches, there are some great anchorages, I mean, we’ve seen, I’ve seen pictures this winter of some of the bays around St. Thomas, that look more like what I’ve seen in Europe over the over the summertime, which was really great to see we have a lot of partners in tourism and government there. And they were so excited to see that, because they’re beautiful, and they’re great places to go. And then I think on the more traditional side, you know, Yacht Haven has been consistently, you know, known as one of the better infrastructure assets in the Caribbean in general. And so it is held up really well during this period of just how busy it’s been. And otherwise in his I think has delivered on sort of its reputation for sort of safety and security and access and facilitating commerce and sort of all the backend stuff that the users don’t really want to know about. But the the workers we have to kind of consider for them. And so so it’s been a really nice coming together of, of Yacht Haven, having historically been like a place where you come and go from, to a place where you might come, come and go more frequently, whether it’s by the day or you know, and coming back in the evening. And so, I think I think it’s been it’s been wonderful.
Diane Byrne 06:32
In terms of where the marina is actually located, I think this will be something important to discuss, too. For people who don’t really know the island very well, were is Yacht Haven Grande located? And what does that make it convenient to get to?
Tom Mukamal 06:47
That’s a great question. I appreciate your asking it. So Yacht Haven sits right adjacent to, sitting in Charlotte Amalie Harbor. And on one side, on the on the west side is Charlotte Amalie, on the east side is an area called Havensight, which is another which is really where the cruise ship terminal is. But it’s very proximate to downtown. It’s very proximate to some of the other attract like dining and other options in Havensight. And it’s got a lot of its own amenities. It’s got 130,000 feet of retail and commercial. So there’s different restaurants that you can go to there. You know, salons, there’s a whole bunch of other things you can do just by being in Yacht Haven. It’s got a pool and tennis court and all that other stuff. So it’s really like in this historic, really cool, historic area. It’s in this wide open harbor that is quite beautiful. It’s a beautiful sense of arrival. It’s right near Water Island, there are some great beaches to tender out to one on Water Island, with other restaurants and pubs that you can go to. So really, you can sort of access a lot of different amenities on St. Thomas, just from being at Yacht Haven. And part of what we’re doing with the show is trying to create calendars and events and activities that sort of draw upon all sorts of different options that are that take advantage of its convenience, and that kind of repeat themselves, day in and day out so that if you miss it one day, you can take advantage of it the next day. There are some some really more beautiful exotic beaches and Megan’s Bay and some other places that are a little bit further away. But we’ll arrange. We’re going to arrange for transit to those as well.
Diane Byrne 08:36
Great, great. And I would imagine that some of you would do for the guests when the charter guests come in things like that. Great. Let’s definitely talk about the charter show because this is pretty intriguing. It’s a new event, of course, for the for the property for Yacht Haven Grande. Traditionally, from you know, our readership, of course, is the consumer. So they don’t really know so much about what the trade shows are. So I want to make sure that we we kind of make it distinguished, or we make a distinguishing point that this is indeed a trade show. But I am going to ask you about some of the benefits for them in a second. Because it’s a trade show, it’s going to be attended by charter brokers; I would imagine that some of the charter brokers who would be attending may not have actually been to St. Thomas as many times as they’ve been to the Caribbean. They all go to, say, St Maarten or they go to Antigua or some of the other islands. So from that standpoint, what are, say, two or three key takeaways that you would like them to have when they are going home after the show?
Tom Mukamal 09:39
I mean, the primary takeaway I’d like them to see is, you know, given that it is as you point out a trade show, so it’s really geared towards brokers viewing yachts, but also viewing them from where they’re going to be embarking and disembarking. So I’d like for them to take away some of the things about chartering out of St. Thomas, that makes life really easy, which is the FBO is terrific. It’s right next to the main airport. It’s very close to Yacht Haven Grande. And that Yacht Haven Grande itself is a very easy place to get in and out of if you’re a charter guests. And I think that is sort of a, you know, the one basic that we just want to the extent that there’s brokers that don’t already know that we’d like for them to know that. Me personally, I would like for some takeaway to be around what it’s like to cruise in the USVI. And not just, you know, historically, you know, yachts will leave and they’ll go to the British Virgin Islands and to North Sound, Virgin Gorda, and all of that, eventually will kind of reopen up and we anticipate that would be really busy too. And, and part of what we would like to even do for this show, as we’ve talked about is to see if we can get some representatives from the BVI government to come over and talk to the brokers as well. But I do think I want people to know what a great option it is just to cruise the US Virgin Islands. Because, you know, there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world, there may still be additional uncertainty coming this winter. And the one thing you know, what I’ve worked with my staff on throughout COVID is let’s focus on things that we can control or we can as close to control as possible. And so I want people to leave the show knowing very clearly what it is we can control in terms of a charter environments so that charters can be booked sold and enjoyed. And so part of that’s going to be if you’re if you’re travel restricted, and you need to stay in US waters, well, where can you go, you know, what I mean? And having as many of them if they would like to even see those places with their own eyes, so that they feel comfortable and confident that that could be sold as a special experience to to a guest. Then th third is that, you know, I think you know, I don’t want to undersell St. Thomas–I’ve been traveling to and from St. Thomas for 15 years. But I do think that it’s got, it has a bit of a reputation among the brokerage community of occasionally it can be a rough place, and I don’t I don’t personally see that, you know, and so I would like for folks to be able to come visit St. Thomas and experience, have a firsthand experience for good or for bad, but on their own and say I’m going to look at it with a fresh eye and and, you know, it’s maybe experience some some places off Yacht Haven, some local cuisine, there’s a lot of good food on the island is a good food scene. And, and and look at it with a fresh eye and say, I have like I have formed an opinion of it that wasn’t passed on to me by somebody else.
Diane Byrne 12:47
Right. And ultimately that’s what every charter broker is really trying to do. They’re trying to create a new impression of a region or a first impression really over region in this particular case, to say, ‘Okay, I have x number of clients who have been asking about the area, what would they want to do? What can I recommend?’ ‘Oh, I’ve sampled this,’ ‘Well, this or that restaurant that, you know, Mary and Tom will love that place, or this beach will be great for this other couple and their kids,’ and all those different unique experiences in a sense that they can create for the customer.
Tom Mukamal 13:19
Exactly. Um, and you know, we’ve we’ve worked with our partners at Navy Beach–that’s a restaurant out in Montauk–and helped them to grow their business in the Caribbean because we felt like that was a really good experience that people are having out in the Hamptons year in and year out. And can we can we create help create a different, but same quality experience in the Caribbean where you know, where things may be a little bit bumpy or inconsistency can be bumpier from time to time. We have a Navy Beach now sitting at Yacht Haven that’s gotten really great reviews. And so, you know, that’s something else we’d like to see people you know, get their arms around.
Diane Byrne 14:01
Right. That’s one of the things I also found really interesting about your whole approach to marinas–marinas across the board. You’ve really made a marina not just a parking place, it’s been the the overall experience, especially for the crew, because we know the crew are not able to just go and venture on land when the guests are around, they may have a job to do on board and they’re really kind of tied to the boat. So making their experience as much of a pleasure as the experiences for the guests I know is something near and dear to your team’s heart.
Tom Mukamal 14:35
Yeah, and I think, you know, we’re trying to do that. I think you’ll see us in the next some months, be doing more of that but even like trying to help get involved in overall experience, whether it’s whether it’s at one of our facilities or going to another one of our facilities we’re seeing more and more clients stay with us at four or five of our marinas. in a given year, which is really was the original business plan was to see that happening. So, so it’s obviously very important to us. I mean, it goes from everything from how we look at staff and moving staff around and cross culturally training staff. And, you know, that’s part of the fun part for us. And so, and even as, as we look at, as we’ve looked at programming for the show, to clearly define, like, who are the attendees? And who were the stakeholders, and what, what is the objectives of each of them, you know, the crew being at a yacht charter show, have different objectives, sometimes, then even the captain might have and certainly different ones, and the broker would have an ad take home for them looks different. Then another group, and so part of part of how we’re trying to reinvent this and imagine this as a way that every group feels like, there was an agenda made for them, and they were able to kind of check certain boxes of of, you know, was it worthwhile for them to be there?
Diane Byrne 16:00
Right. And, And that, to me, is definitely a striking difference compared to your typical show, because usually at a–whether it’s a charter show or a regular boat show, the emphasis is always on the people coming to, say, charter, to buy, etc. Obviously, the exhibitors too, but it’s more from the exhibitor standpoint, it’s more of the ‘Okay, how much space do you need? Do you need a tent? Do you need dockage,’ and it seems to kind of end there with the furnishings, etc. it’s not so much what they can experience, what they can do. And from a charter show standpoint, obviously, you want them to experience this area to understand more, not just what the marina itself can do, but what St. Thomas has to offer. That I think has gotten lost with a number of shows over the years. They–the organizers–kind of in a sense, are assuming that everyone is experiencing the island or the destination, but I don’t really think it’s happening.
Tom Mukamal 17:01
Yeah, I mean, look, we we talk about it probably five times a week now different with different stakeholders inside of it, why, like, how do we, and we’re having a great time trying to get excited about how to deliver on all these on different value propositions. And part of its, and how we started the conversation was, well, let’s have a, you know, let’s talk about what we think has been valuable or not valuable of all of our attendance at other trade shows over the past 15 years. And, and so we, you know, we said, okay, well, like I alluded to, everybody’s got, we want everyone to leave thinking that they got value for being there, forgetting about what they spent to get there. But it’s the time of being there is more important than anything else. And it’s not as easy to go to St. Thomas, as it is to go to Fort Lauderdale. You know, full stop, right? So what is it that a broker is going to want to accomplish? A need to see and so we didn’t even talk about how is it going to be priced? Or how are we going to, like, we never talked, money came in, in like the 15th conversation, it was not the first conversation. I mean, that’s the point I’m getting to, which is, I don’t we’re not looking to make money off of this event, I’d like to, but I don’t foresee it actually happening. I might be wrong, you know what I mean. But I think that our goal as a company is really to get more brokers more excited about charters, in the Caribbean at large. And in particular, out of yacht Haven, but not necessarily only out of Yacht Haven, we own property all throughout the Caribbean, as you know. And so our our goal really is to facilitate commerce in this industry, because we all benefit when there’s more commerce in it. So I said this at another interview, I want to get like the best brokers possible down to St. Thomas looking at the best boats possible that are willing to sign up for the show, and show them a really good time in the process so that they everybody leaves thinking this is going to be a great season. And, and it is one and then more importantly, you know, if what, you know, when the economy isn’t as good as it is today, and there will be a time where it’s not that there’s a really good business model in place that still encourages participants to move their boats there and show them for charter in in a cost effective and transparent way because eventually it’s not good. You know, right now it’s it’s a it’s a great time for charter, but it’s not, you know, we’ve seen it come we’ve seen it up and down.
Diane Byrne 19:39
Sure, sure. From the consumer side, if you were to have an opportunity to sit with somebody who’s looking to charter this winter and they’re looking at the Caribbean, if they said to you ‘Alright, you represent a marina in St. Thomas, why should I come over to St. Thomas?’ what would you say are two or three things that would you think would really hook them to make it the unique destination that they want to experience?
Tom Mukamal 20:09
I think I would tell them that it’s it is, it’s proximate to so many great things to do. And so they’re while there might be some individual offerings on St. Thomas, that might be great on your way in or on your way out. Realistically, you’re not coming to get on to a completely unique and life, you know, once in a lifetime experience, by hanging out on St. Thomas, for a week, you’re going to want to go places, and there are amazing places to go from here. And you should feel comfortable knowing that we can get anything pretty much into and out of this location to support you on your journey. And I think that’s, you know, that is something that we’ve prioritized in our business, as a general matter in all the islands where we do business, but in particular, in St. Thomas, and in particular this year, because we’re sort of coming out of the pandemic, and St. Thomas has done the US Virgin Islands has done a very good job managing through the pandemic. I think that it’s, um, it’s a place that we could offer you, you know, I know we are coming out of it, or at least it seems that way. But it’s still a place that we can offer some real certainty. In a time that may still be uncertain, because you don’t really know what’s going to happen six months. I mean, nobody knows. But. But I think that that’s, that’s the message that we would tell someone coming into the market for the first time.
Diane Byrne 21:36
Supporting people on the journey, especially being in the market for the first time, is really key. There’s a lot of conversations I’ve been having around that subject, because we are all seeing so many newcomers in the industry. And we know we need to support them in new ways and in different ways than a more experienced customer. Is there anything we’re missing the mark on in terms of the industry supporting that customer? Where do we need to step up more?
Tom Mukamal 22:07
I think that, you know, we could always do better in transparency. You know, there are lots of ways that we’re seeing goods and services bought and sold in the world today that are a lot more transparent than the way that goods and services are provided in this industry, for better or for worse, and some of that is just the nature of what it is, which is a highly bespoke product, that it’s not an off the shelf sort of thing. And so it doesn’t lend itself as much to being as transparent. But that certainly is something that I feel like we talk we all talk about a lot but probably could do a little bit better on and you’ll see us we’re going to we have an agenda to launch some products and and and our own services over the next six to 12 months that I hope to be back on your show talking to you about in furtherance of that. So I think that’s one thing, we could really be doing better, but and then I think just also more cooperation. So we’ve done some brokers are better than others about this. But we, you know, we’re there. And partly why we have partnered with iba on on the show in particular, is we want the brokers to know that we’re there to help them. So you know, not every broker can get to every location when they have a client coming and going. And we’re there to be supportive of that and supportive of their business and their clients having the best experience possible. And and we’ve done this for brokers in the past, we’ve been very supportive, and we’ll continue to do so. But I think there’s also a lot of just sort of talk in the world about what happens in the last mile of things, you know, and I think that’s one of the strengths of our of it, why being in so many different countries is that we are able to provide certain last mile services and support to our partners in ways that are a little bit more scalable than then if we weren’t in 20 locations.
Diane Byrne 24:10
Okay, good to know. Well, we look forward to learning more about those plans as they roll out and of course following the developments of this Caribbean charter show. Tom, thanks so much for being on with us today.
Tom Mukamal 24:21
You’re very welcome. Thanks for having me.
Diane Byrne 24:23
Everybody, If you’d like to learn more about what Tom and IGY Marinas are doing especially in the Virgin Islands, you can visit their website, which is igymarinas.com. Thanks, everybody, for listening. Until next time, I’m Diane Byrne.
That wraps up this episode of Megayacht News Radio. Thanks for listening. If you like what you hear, please share the word on social media and subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Audible, IHeartRadio, or Spotify. And of course, to learn more about what’s going on in the world of large yacht cruising, new construction, and design, check out our daily updated website, the award winning megayachtnews.com.