Paolo Casani, CEO of Camper & Nicholsons: Engaging Clients in the Digital Age
Camper & Nicholsons’ recent achievements include selling the 105m Lady Moura and adding the 126m Octopus to its charter and management fleets, but CEO Paolo Casani is most excited about the company’s focus on proprietary technology to engage clients in the new era.
What have been the biggest changes at Camper & Nicholsons in your six years as CEO and how has the job compared to your time as CEO of Azimut-Benetti and President of Fraser?
Over the past six years, Camper & Nicholsons has evolved into one of the most important and complete luxury service companies for yachts for two main reasons. One, we’ve greatly improved the integration of all our departments, and two, we’ve been facilitated by the acquisition of a new technological platform that allows us to build new, ultra-modern tools for our sales teams.
Our technology gives us incredible strength and quality on the market and increases the value of the company assets. The technological advancements are not only one of the most important changes of the past few years but will also be increasingly important for the coming years as well.
As for my earlier roles, working for a shipyard and working for a brokerage are quite different. Probably the only common thing is that we work with the same clients, but everything inside the companies is totally different.
Why has C&N focused so much on its online presence, software and communication?
I think we are almost the leader in this area in the brokerage industry, but if you ask me if I’m satisfied, I’d tell you no. Camper & Nicholsons is growing well, thanks to the investment we’ve made, but our plans are more and more ambitious, so we plan to do much more.
The digitalisation level of our company will increase more in the coming years because we believe this is one of the most important ways to develop the company. We think the combination of technology and competencies — like experienced sales and charter brokers, experienced staff in all our different departments like yacht management and insurance, which is increasingly important for us — are of paramount importance to the success of the company in the future.
Camper & Nicholsons has an important characteristic compared to the other brokerage houses in that our technologies are proprietary technologies. We do not buy our software and services from other providers. We develop everything in-house. We have a team of engineers planning and building all our in-house software. They’ve been completely re-engineering the digital ecosystem of the company.
That’s the most important effect of acquiring a tech company, as we did in 2019. We’ve done a lot and there is a lot to do. We have quite an ambitious plan. It’s very important to stress this because we store all our data in-house, which is important because we manage very confidential information for our clients.
What are your thoughts on the changes to the Monaco Yacht Show following the 2020 cancellation and the reorganisation behind the scenes?
Firstly, let me say the Monaco Yacht Show is the most important megayacht show in the world by far and it’s a very important window for clients all over the world. It’s an occasion that everyone in this industry waits for to meet people and see megayachts.
Having said that, we think the show should evolve more to attract a new generation of clients with different initiatives, with technology that’s more attractive to this new generation. The existing clients are already in touch with us, so we know how to interact with them and negotiate with them.
As such, the Monaco Yacht Show needs to attract the new, younger generation of clients with the possibility to buy or charter yachts but who don’t yet feel the need or the attraction to do so. We need to bring them, show them on board, to create the possibility to buy, show them the possibility of a different lifestyle. Connecting with the next generation of buyers is the biggest growth opportunity for the superyacht industry in the coming years.
How important is your Monaco office among your global network?
Monaco is not our headquarters, but it’s our most important operational office and has 60 staff out of our total of 140. Monaco remains the hub of megayachts, and many owners have houses or businesses there. Today, Camper & Nicholsons has offices around the world — five in Europe, three in the US and one in Asia, in Hong Kong.
Which departments generate the most revenue for C&N?
The two most important revenue generators are sales/brokerage and charter, which are almost at the same level. Under sales, I include our new build division, which was launched almost three years ago. After those two, we have yacht management, including the crew and crew placement divisions, and then insurance, which is increasingly important.
Camper & Nicholsons Insurance Solutions is a new 50-50 joint-venture with an insurance company. So far, it has worked with over 100 megayachts above 40m, which is an important achievement.
Do you believe new build is a sector with a lot of growth potential?
Absolutely. New build has a lot of potential growth. In the past, most new builds went through brokerage companies. Now, for various reasons, about 50 per cent don’t go through brokerage companies and go straight to the shipyards.
We really believe if a brokerage company is well organised and justifies the fact it’s in the middle of the transaction, it can bring great value for both the buyer and the shipyard. That’s why we created our new build division, or what we also call the project management division, composed of engineers.
Our activities in new construction have been quite intense. Just last year, we’ve delivered half-a-dozen new build projects.
How significant is the addition of the 126m Octopus to your charter and management fleets, and what can charter guests expect on her round-the-world tour?
We’re thrilled to have an iconic yacht such as Octopus join our yacht management and charter fleet because the yacht is one of the most impressive explorer yachts in the world. It shows we are increasingly being recognised as an expert in megayachts, as we have other 100m-plus vessels in our fleet. It’s exciting that Octopus is preparing to charter for the first time.
The new owner had said that the yacht would be available for charter by very selected clients. It will be an incredible opportunity for guests to experience this sense of adventure. She has embarked in January 2022 on a two-year journey around the world. Because she is ice-class, we can now take our clients anywhere they want to go in the world.
Camper & Nicholsons made headlines in the middle of the year with the sale of the 105m Lady Moura, which has long been a mainstay in Monaco. Can you talk about how this sale evolved?
It’s an important sale for Camper & Nicholsons, of course. It was the fastest sale of a 100m-plus yacht in the past decade, taking 554 days.
It was a great achievement thanks to great teamwork, starting from our senior sales brokers Fernando Nicholson and Arne Ploch to all the departments, from marketing, who put together a very detailed and refine marketing plan, to compliance and legal in the final stage of the deal, working with the buying and selling lawyers. It was a great company success. Nowadays, when selling a megayacht, it’s important to have a full team working on it.
Other brokerage houses have revealed record superyacht sales during Covid, especially in the pre-owned sector. How has your sales & purchase sector performed in the Covid era?
If we consider 2020, we can divide the year into two parts. The first part was the most difficult one. We had to face something virtually unknown to all of us.
Luckily, we had already thought about an emergency plan for the company for any sudden situation and realised we had to organise the company in a different way. We made an investment in securing the most important functions, including working with banks. It meant that when we had to close the offices in early 2020 and people had to work at home, most of our staff were already organised for this and were able to continue working the next day.
However, we were affected by the impossibility to meet with clients, to complete transactions. This included one for Lady Moura as we were waiting for the clients to come on board, but then their flight was cancelled. Much of the time, these transactions are emotional, so if you lose the momentum, you lose it forever. It was like that for many other negotiations in place.
Of course, like everyone, we started to organise our video and webinar interactions, as well as improving photo and video shoots, videos with descriptions and voiceovers, all the other ways to connect with clients and connect clients to the yachts.
The second part of 2020 was much better. Probably as a reaction to what had happened, people tried to go back to normal and the last quarter of 2020 was much better for sales. We experienced selling yachts without welcoming clients on board — and that was an experience, honestly. If you asked me two years ago, I would have told you this was impossible.
Now, we’ve discovered nothing is impossible if you are very well organised. Covid has been negative overall, but it has taught us a lot and given us the sense that it is possible to change and do this business in a different way.
2021 had been even better. The first six months were the best we’ve had, certainly during my time. We sold a lot of yachts. In general, the industry has sold double the number of yachts it did in the first six months of 2019.
How was your charter business affected during Covid?
Charter had a different evolution to sales. In early 2020, we entered an almost worldwide lockdown, so we had to cancel or postpone almost all charters. This was financially a difficult period because we had to give up our income from charter, which is an important part of Camper & Nicholsons’ revenue and cash flow.
We were able to postpone 50 per cent of the charters already booked, but all in all, it was obviously not a positive year for charter. Then in the last quarter, we almost lost the Caribbean season as well, so that was a double negative impact.
In 2021, we didn’t start very well, but from March, even charter started to change. April, May, June and July have been incredible months for charter. It was difficult to find a 40-50m yacht available for charter unless there was a late cancellation. We almost recovered our budget by the end of July.
In charter management, we are above the yearly budget and in charter retail, we’re just short of the yearly budget, so all in all, we’re extremely satisfied with charter as well, although the curve has been different to sales.
We’ve also improved the quality of our charter fleet. Octopus is just a recent example. We have an incredible range of 70-plus yachts in our charter fleet, based in all the major charter locations around the world, such as Europe, the Caribbean, Florida in the US and Southeast Asia. Some have 100, 110 days, 140 days of charter a year, which is incredible. In these cases, the owners can offset their running costs.
How do you think the charter industry will evolve in the coming years?
Charter is one division that can be more positively affected than others by technology and we do it a little bit differently from other companies because of the tools we have in place. For example, the way we propose itineraries to our clients is unique and can be done very quickly and easily because of our technological platform.
Our new website launched in late 2019 has also helped us receive more enquiries than before and we’ve also improved the team of charter brokers, which now number over 20 around the world. Honestly, our charter brokers include some of the best in the industry.
How important is Asia for Camper & Nicholsons in the long term?
Firstly, the company’s majority shareholder (Lai Sun) is based in Asia. For a long time, Asia has been the continent with the most growth potential. There’s still a lot to do, but there are a growing number of investors approaching the yachting business.
The number of tycoons investing in and buying yachts is increasing every month. If you look at the order books of some of the most important shipyards in Europe, there are many, many owners from Asia. Some very important yachts have been delivered to Asian owners and there will be more in the coming months and years.
The number of multi-billionaires in Asia is growing, mainly but not only in China, which will eventually become more important than the US. If the trend continues as it does today, we think the Asia market will be the most important market in the industry in the next 10 years.
This is something we said 10 years ago and maybe 20 years ago, and it has evolved partially, but now there is an acceleration. The delay is because people in the north part of Asia are not that familiar with the sea. Yachts are used in a different way, as the owners are less passionate about spending time in the sea and more passionate about the asset.
Another obstacle in Asia to the growth of yachting is the infrastructure, which is quite poor in some of the countries. For example, in Hong Kong, there’s an important number of yacht owners but it’s difficult to moor a yacht above 40m for many reasons.
For some automotive and fashion companies, the Asian markets are some of the most important in the world. Yachting is part of the luxury industry, so just as it happened for cars and fashion, it will happen for yachting. However, due to the nature of the assets, it will take longer.
We only opened our office in Hong Kong in 2017, so we are still young there, but with an important strength – our owner is based in Hong Kong, so we’re in touch with some of the most important clients there. We very much count on Asia.
This article first appeared on Yacht Style.
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