Looking for a travel-related business that’s actually booming during the year of COVID-19? It’s out on the water, in rented boats of every shape and size from kayaks to luxury yachts.
“We had our drop-off in April, and then come May we saw a very quick rebound, Bryan Petro, chief operating officer of boat rental and charter marketplace GetMyBoat, told PYMNTS. “From April [to August], we are seeing a 3,900 percent increase in demand.”
How does a travel company increase bookings almost 4,000 percent in just four months in the middle of a global pandemic? By being everything that COVID-weary travelers want — all in one rental.
Petro said travelers “aren't leaving their general vicinity, [they’re] going wherever they can travel by car, and they definitely don't want to go indoors anywhere. The natural path is to do something outdoors, and boating is one of those activities [that is] outdoors and well-ventilated. You're actually pretty isolated … whether it's just going out with your family or your roommates — whoever is within your social bubble.”
Petro, whose firm offers more than 130,000 boats at 9,300 locations worldwide, said he expects the company’s dizzying demand spike to continue. For instance, he told PYMNTS that GetMyBoat is partnering with FareHarbor, a local activities-and-experiences booking platform. A subsidiary of Booking.com parent Booking Holdings, FareHarbor specializes in local tour and travel experiences to numerous destinations.
“Because of COVID, it feels like people are discovering [boating] for the first time,” he said. “[But] we've been around since 2013 … and we've been growing year over year. But then to hit this sort of scale — this exponential growth this year [where] we're seeing that a lot of new boaters are hitting the water — that's great.”
Innovation By The Boatload
It’s often said that the two best days in a boat owner’s life are the day she buys the boat and the day she sells it. GetMyBoat has been chipping away at that proposition by making boats earn their keep.
Launching as a free service akin to classifieds trying to connect boat owners with folks interested in renting boats, Petro said “we weren’t part of the transaction then.”
But that’s since changed as the platform seeks to create ever more seamless water adventures. Petro said it took GetMyBoat three years to amass enough data to understand how to monetize the platform.
“Owners were asking us to be a part of [the transaction],” he said. “Owners will list with us. We can generate an overwhelming amount of demand. And we bring boat owners that aren't necessarily tech savvy [and don’t] have customer support or sales or marketing into the 21st century. We bring them onto a mobile platform. They instantly have a website through us” without needing any tech expertise.
The GetMyBoat platform then integrated payments functionality, allowing owners and renters anywhere in the world to transact securely — often updating cross-border payments issues that have been a bane of the modern boat-renting world.
“What a lot of existing rental operators and charter companies were telling us is that especially overseas, it’s really hard to get money upfront for our bookings,” Petro said, reciting the familiar litany of clunky old-style cross-border payments like wire transfers.
Making Fraudsters Walk The Plank
But surprise of surprises, renters don't like wiring money to strangers in other countries in hopes that a boat is waiting when they arrive.
“That led us to inserting ourselves into the transaction flow and putting in tools that provide safety for both sides,” Petro said.
Using the example of the boat renter who for some reason — weather conditions, say — can’t go out as planned, “we will be able to escrow the funds and refund it back,” he said.
Admittedly, the GetMyBoat platform is seeing its share of fraud during its volcanic 3,900 percent booking increase. But the company takes keeping boat owners and renters safe from fraud seriously.
“Fraud is a pretty big deal in the boating industry, and something owners were telling us they need help with,” Petro said. “It’s not only on fraud, but friendly fraud, which would be chargebacks on bookings” — especially when owners take payments directly.
“What we're seeing happen now [during] COVID is more adoption of our platform because of all the tools we put in place before, not to mention contactless payment,” which Petro said is a major COVID-era plus for the brand.
Definitions Of ‘Safety On The Water’
But whether at sea or just cruising on a lake, boating has risks beside payments. For example, many people who wish to rent larger sailboats and powerboats have no boating experience.
Increasingly, they hire captains to pilot their rented boats, Petro said, and while GetMyBoat can be helpful in locating skippers, renters get to make choices and boat owners always have final say.
One other important piece of the risk equation right now is COVID itself. Petro said GetMyBoat tightened its already stringent cleaning protocols after the pandemic’s onset, insisting that masks and social distancing be observed according to local ordinances, for example. If owners are doing two-per-day or multiday rentals, stricter cleaning conventions are now in place.
To celebrate its good fortune in what for many is a dreadful year, GetMyBoat has introduced a photo contest encouraging renters to send pictures of their aquatic adventures to win credit for future boat bookings. GetMyBoat also holds a year-end recognition for owners.
Does a platform that’s just seen a 3,900 percent sales spike really need to promote itself?
“These aren't necessarily promotions to generate more demand,” Petro said. “It's more of a thank you to those that are using us.”