Gulf Charters Thailand has long been the iconic sailing company of Thailand’s eastern seaboard. Beginning in 2003, they were the first company in the Gulf of Thailand to offer commercial sailing trips to the then non-existent day trip market. In the early days, because there were only a few boats and services available, the company provided just about anything a customer wanted. As Ocean Marina Yacht Club developed in the mid-2000s and more marine companies moved in, Gulf Charters Thailand began to narrow their focus for long-term success. In 2008, the company went through a strategic realignment to focus on three core business areas: bareboat yacht charters, blue water sailing school, and becoming a sailing-focused yacht brokerage in the Gulf of Thailand.
Seraph cruising photo-GCT early days
This new strategy rested on the belief that these three core business areas all relied on very different target markets and that regardless of what happened — whether that be political disruption in Thailand or variance in the tourism industry — it would remain a long-term, sustainable business model. As things would have it, this belief was quickly put to the test with the financial crisis of 2008, the internal Thai political turmoil of 2009 and 2010, the military coup of 2014, and the chang-es in tourism makeup that the eastern seaboard has seen over the last 10 years. The result has been a healthy, vibrant business that has weathered well through these difficult times and continues to post positive growth.
In 2008, the company set out to expand its offering of sailing boats to prospective buyers and in doing so picked up a representation of Catalina Yachts from the USA, and Nautitech catamarans in France. Shortly after that in 2012, Gulf Charters Thailand was approached by Island Spirit Catamarans which had recently set up a new manufacturing facility in Thailand to build sailing catamarans and take on brokerage and sales functions for Asia. Through this relationship, the company was able to augment its charter fleet with additional catamarans as well as offer a quality, locally manufactured brand to its clients. Later in 2016, Gulf Charters Thailand also added a line of Bavaria sailing yachts to its portfolio. With this collection of top-of-the-line brands, Gulf Charters Thailand offered its clients a number of sailing options to choose from.
The Island Spirit brand emerged into the United States and the Caribbean charter market in 1998. It instantly became a highly sought-after catamaran due to its revolutionary design which offered both optimal space and superior sailing performance. Over 65 Island Spirits have been built, 35 of which were sold in the United States between 1998 and 2006. To this day Island Spirit multihulls are still extremely popular in the secondhand market.
The Island Spirit 37 was the first model launched in 1998 followed by the Island Spirit 400 in 2001. In 2003, Amanzi Marine redesigned and launched the Island Spirit 401. Island Spirits have been awarded top ten awards in Sail Magazine in 2001, 2003, and 2005. In 2003 the boat was also a nominee for boat of the year.
Hybrid Electric IS380 photo
In 2014, Island Spirit Catamarans updated its brand name to Island Spirit Multihulls to better reflect its broader selection of products. They also moved production to Thailand to provide custom-ers with the most competitive pricing while maintaining a commitment to quality. Upon moving, they became the first company in Thailand to adopt a full vacuum infusion methodology. The initial model launched in 2014 was the IS380 which is now in use across Asia by bareboat charter companies, day trip operators, and a number of personal cruisers. In 2015, Island Spirit launched the first hybrid electric sail-ing catamaran from Thailand in an IS380 with a full Oceanvolt propulsion and control system. In 2016, the company moved to a larger facility at PMG Shipyard in order to further expand manufacturing, and in 2017 it launched the first IS410 with separate models developed specifically for bareboat charter operators, day trip operators, and personal cruising.
Ron, the company’s CEO, summarized the system, “Gulf Charters Thailand and Island Spirit Catamarans, the manufacturer, have long been closely linked because Island Spirit was building boats and putting them into Gulf Charters charter program, and Gulf Charters was acting as the main broker for the boats.”
Between Gulf Charters Thailand and Group Island Spirit were the following business segments:
Bareboat Yacht Charter Bluewater Sailing School New and Used sailing boat brokerage Sailing Catamaran manufacturing Yacht Financing
Early in 2018, the core principals of both groups entered into discussions to determine how both businesses would best flourish and whether it made sense to combine forces. In the end, both parties concluded that they should operate under a single ownership structure to make the selling, financing, and chartering of boats as easy and transparent as possible for owners and clients in Southeast Asia.
With this new direction, the principals founded Group Island Spirit in the United States as the parent company for all of the businesses within the group. In doing so and with the future charter expansion plans, the group also founded Island Spirit Charters which has re-ceived Thailand BOI promotion for the expansion of its fleets within Thailand. With this new company, Gulf Charters Thailand will be rebranding as Island Spirit Charters as they move into 2019. “It was a hard decision to decide to rebrand,” says Phil Harper, the founder of Gulf Charters Thailand, “But, we are looking at expanding well beyond the Gulf of Thailand, so we also needed a more suitable name that did not solely identify with the Gulf of Thailand.”
29The transition will be formally announced in early November at the International Charter Exhibition (ICE) in Zagreb, Croatia, a few weeks before the Ocean Marina Pattaya Boat Show. Island Spirit Charters will be the only Thailand-based charter company on display at the ICE.
This new company structure will offer benefits not only within the group but also to clients and the charter yacht owners. With a transparent vertical integration which reaches from design, manufacture, and finance, all the way to yacht charter, the company can provide high-quality charter boats at the lowest possible cost to the buyers. This will result in higher financial returns to the Island Spirit yacht owners than any other offerings on the market today. Buyers see cost savings not only on the initial purchase but also through continued savings in logistics and maintenance programs over time. The group will deliver boats into charter in Asia at a 25-30% lower cost to the owner than comparable boats through traditional distribution channels.
The Island Spirit Financing arm offers several programs for charter boat ownership. From a very low initial purchase price and earn-out with charter income, to a direct outright purchase with significant savings and excellent returns on investment to the owners.
None of the company’s partnerships will change, and Island Spirit is not doing anything that will compete with its existing partnerships. However, it will be adding new destinations through a variety of means including a charter base licensing model and several new product lines. There are also plans to open sailing schools in these new, lesser-known destinations.
Group Island Spirit’s new platform is not revolutionary. Vertically integrated business models have been used successfully by many of the largest and most successful charter companies. However, most normal charter expansion has come from the west, while this company is choosing to grow its business from Thailand outwards. Group Island Spirit is also going one further by offer franchising.
The group will offer charter base licenses with a minimum of four boats on charter, and it will provide the boats, booking system, financing, processes, new marketing technology, support, and training. All of the company’s operations are in the cloud as it has always worked in remote bases.
The unique strategic advantage beyond vertical integration is that the company has success-fully mastered offering bareboat yacht charter from bases without existing marine infrastructure (marina, chandlery, or supporting services). This alone is a unique business model that dramatically expands the potential to expand charter destinations. With an Island Spirit charter base license, the only thing limiting success is the quality of the destination.
If you are retired and thinking of buying a Subway or McDonald’s franchise, why not reconsider. Picture yourself lounging on a classic yacht anchored in a secluded pristine bay in Southeast Asia, keeping the dream alive and running an Island Spirit charter base in some remote idyllic location.
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