Odyssail: Why is it so hard to book a sailing trip online?
Did you happen to hear the news last May of a Chinese labor camp forcing detainees to play World of Warcraft as part of a huge money-making scam? Well, I have another idea that might not generate any money to the guards, but will definitely cause pain with the detainees: try to book a sailing trip to Greece online! Seriously, my eyes were hurting, I got stressed, and had nightmares that I’ll spend all my summer in the rainy Netherlands.
My Odyssey and partying like it’s 1999
But let me start telling you about my personal Odyssey. It all started with lots of enthusiasm and cheers after finally convincing ten friends from the Netherlands to spend their holidays in Greece and go for sailing and island hopping (well, it was not that hard). After all, it was a safe way to enjoy the Greek summer, away from any riots and strikes. I assured my friends that I’d arrange everything and that in the end they’d only had to share the final bill with me.
So, with lots of enthusiasm I typed in Google ‘sailing in Greece’ and started clicking on the top ranked results. If only I knew that by typing these three words I had opened a time gate that allowed me to travel back in 1999. Not Prince’s 1999, when it’s judgment day, the sky is purple, people are running everywhere and Prince is singing that he’ll party like it’s 1999. No, I mean the ‘www’ 1999, remember? The one with elaborate pages and more content that James Joyce’s Ulysses, crappy ‘150x90px’ pictures, tables longer than the Greek tax administration’s spreadsheets and more links and call to actions than hairs in my beard. If you can’t remember how did 1999 look like, let me refresh your memory with these lovely sailing websites that ranked the highest in my Google search: odysseysailing, greecetravel, sailgreece, sailingissues, sailionian.
Snapshot of a typical sailing website
Like I care…
Anyhow, I started browsing them and as you can imagine I got completely overwhelmed by the information. Tens of different boats to pick from. Do I want a Bavaria 51 (that is in feet, apparently) or an Ocean Star 51,2? I clicked, and then I got to the tech info accompanied by the technical sketches and images the manufacturer provides. Mmm, do I care that my water tank is 940lt and my diesel tank is 430lt? Honestly, no! And if I did, I would google it. It’s like booking a plane ticket, and you get told what the capacity of the gasoline tanks of the Boeing 787 you’re flying with is. Do you care?
Do I really need all these specs? Try to spot the call to action
Anyway, after spending a couple of hours totally baffled by the info, I decided to try 48options. What 48 options essentially does, is that forwards your yacht charter request to all the sites affiliated with the site. After all I’d at least bypass all these terrible websites. What I got as a result is a full inbox with overpriced offers, and prices that skim as the summer passes by. I still receive offers although the requested date has passed. Of course, I want to unsubscribe from this service. But guess what? No unsubscribe link or option.
All I want
Time to make the long short, stop grousing, and get to the point. What I want from a yacht charting website is a booking form with all the relevant information:
A calendar: to provide the date I’m planning to plunder the islands with my rented pirate galley.
Destination menu: a drop down menu with the available places to loot, heh sail I mean.
Passengers: the number of compadres in this journey.
Option for a skipper: the option to have a captain that will AARRR and sail you to the best beaches.
and what I want to get is:
an all inclusive price.
and a bank account to transfer the money.
Is it too much that I’m asking for?
Why should renting a boat be more complex than renting a car or booking a flight ticket? At the end of the day, chartering a yacht is a quite lucrative business targeting mostly well off customers. From discussions I had with our skipper, the business is still growing despite the harsh competition and the crisis. The margins might be lower than before, but still it’s a business with room for growth. Nevertheless, the same people that browse a polished page of Hilton or Hayatt, have to go through a user experience that is buzzillion years behind when booking a yacht.
Why is that? If you ask me, I think the sector is full of skippers that became entrepreneurs by accident (or luck). People that love to feel the caress of the wind on their forehead, smell the iodine of the sea, and get a nice sun-tan but still don’t have a clue about online marketing and business. Then you’ll ask me what about web-design agencies; they are the ones designing the page, right? In this case, I could blame the idiosyncrasy of skippers-owners. They are men that are used to manage and control everything on board. They might have a distorted view of what a good webpage really is, but they still want the webdesign agency to follow their wishes and vision. Another speculation I can think of, is that it’s pure skimpiness by skippers-owners’ side. A sailing website has to be redesigned during the off-season, when there are hardly any bookings hence guaranteed income. It could also be that island hoping in Greece, on board, definitely pays-off no matter the hassle and lousy experience before sailing.
What do you think? Do you have any personal experience that you’d like to share with us?