Online vacation rental marketplaces such as Vrbo, HomeAway and Airbnb have taken the country by storm. Since hurricanes Irma and Maria, Airbnb rentals in the U.S. Virgin Islands have become an integral part of the tourism product.
Now the marine industry has gotten in on the game with companies such as GetMyBoat, which is seeing substantial growth in the Caribbean in the past year, including in the USVI.
GetMyBoat is the world’s largest marketplace for boat rentals and all types of bookable experiences on the water, from diving trips to catamaran sails, paddle boarding to kayaking. With more than 130,000 listings and more than 9,300 destinations in 184 countries, booking a water activity is quick and easy directly on your computer or phone.
While out on the water themselves, co-founders Sascha Mornell and Rafael Collado realized that the boat charter industry was difficult to maneuver for the average visitor, and in many cases, the only access to boats was via a travel agent that was two levels removed from the boat owner. With the growing popularity and acceptance of the sharing economy with companies such as Uber, they realized they could do the same in the boating industry, connecting visitors directly with boat owners in an Airbnb format. Launched in 2013, the company first offered only boat rentals, but has since grown to include all water experiences.
At first GetMyBoat concentrated on stateside areas such as Miami and San Diego, but has since expanded services to worldwide locations such as Australia, Mexico, France Spain and more. There are currently 196 listings in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.
“It’s really taken off in the Caribbean in the last year or so and we’re seeing more and more in the Virgin Islands,” said Marketing Manager Val Streif. “Ten years ago, it wasn’t really a thing, but now with Uber and Airbnb and their widespread acceptance, the sharing economy is more comfortable for people, and we focus on making the experience as easy as possible.”
There are many reasons to turn to a company such as GetMyBoat. Some are lured by the concept of renting a boat rather than owning one because of the cost. Others appreciate the versatility of having a completely different experience each time. Still more want to see all the options available and read customer reviews before settling on a rental.
“People like the transparency of our site,” said Streif. “They like comparison shopping and knowing exactly what the options are.”
Using the site is a quick and easy process. Once they create a free account, customers can browse through options wherever they want to go. For boat owners, setting up an account is also free, giving them the opportunity to list all of the amenities they offer and at what price. They are in full control of their own pricing.
A list of watercraft is presented to customers after they submit their search. Customers may then use GetMyBoat’s basic filters or advanced filters to narrow down the list to find the right watercraft for them. Customers submit direct inquiries to the owners and the owner replies back with an offer to book the boat with the details the customer provided or with similar details. If the customer approves an offer, the customer’s credit card will be charged the full amount of the booking and the booking will be confirmed. Both parties will receive a confirmation email and be put in touch. Only when an actual booking is confirmed are the boat owner and the renter charged a flat 7% fee for the service, one of the lowest fees in the industry, said Streif.
“We’ve really smoothed things out customer service-wise for boat owners, and we only charge you money when you are making money,” Streif said.
The site offers advantages such as an inbox system with a calendar and built-in messaging for the management of booking details. Notifications are sent by phone and inbox for each important step or action by any party, and there is a customer service support team available seven days a week.
Capt. Christopher Klein, owner of Local Legend Charters, a Virgin Islands family operated charter boat company, has had a listing on GetMyBoat for about a year now.
“I signed up because they offer the listings for free. It’s commission-based, so any bookings I make through the service can only be a plus,” he said. “Traditional advertising is hard to track. With this, it’s good to have our website connected to another site and it helps to increase our search engine ranking. Even if I only get one booking a year, it’s helpful to me.”
To get the most from their listing Streif, has two important pieces of advice: “Take great pictures and responding as quick as possible is crucial,” she said.
Klein agrees. “Make sure you have great pictures and a really good description of what you have to offer.”
Visit www.GetMyBoat.com for listings or to download the app.