Tommy & Adi Tognarelli – Founders of PlainSailing.com
It’s unusual to find brothers working at the helm of a company, but PlainSailing.com, the award-winning yacht and catamaran charter experts in the Med, go one step further than that: it was the founded by two twins with a vision to revolutionise sailing!
Fresh from winning an award for being the best Yacht Charter Agency in Europe, we caught up with them both to discuss life, work and business:
Wow! It’s amazing to see twins running a company?
TT: Yeah, we get that all the time! It’s a bit different, and we get a fair amount of attention when we’re out an about together because of the twin-thing, but it’s part of what makes PlainSailing.com a bit special – we’re a family company, and it’s generally a real pleasure to be able to come into work with your brother. It definitely helps the business that we understand each other and how we work best together.
AT: Working with your brother also means that we can be brutally honest when we need to be and make decisions faster. Though, touch wood, things are going so well now that we’ve turbo-charged the website, and everything is progressing in the right direction, so there’s only really good news to discuss.
TT: One of the toughest things that we’ve had to learn is to stop talking about work whenever we’re at family gatherings and the like. Or at least, to try to – even then, we’ll usually steal a couple of minutes to talk about bookings coming in, positive feedback from customers or whatever.
So what is PlainSailing.com, and how did it come about?
TT: PlainSailing.com is a yacht charter agency or broker: we match people who want to sail on a yacht or catamaran with our trusted suppliers right across the Med. It’s a simple enough concept, but we’ve gone all out to make it as simple as possible to find and book your ideal boat.
Before, and even just a few years ago, if you wanted to charter a boat, it would involve all sorts of phone calls, or even faxes to find and book a yacht?! – now you can do it in under ten clicks of your mouse on PlainSailing.com!
AT: How did it come about? We used to charter boats in the Med, and it was so painful. It basically came about because we were sick and tired of all the paperwork and the hassle – so we were on a catamaran in Greece and we just thought ‘someone needs to come up with a website to make it easy to find a boat’ – so we did.
Since launching in 2014, we’ve massively upgraded everything about the site to make it genuinely as easy as it possibly can be for our customers to get themselves out on the water. As our tagline says, we want to make chartering with us PlainSailing.com.
TT: We actually launched in Scotland in 2015, where we spent a bit of time honing our systems, before launching in the Med – in Greece and Croatia, which are now our main markets – in 2017, then we added bases and suppliers in Italy, France and Montenegro in 2019, and we’ve just launched into offering yacht and catamaran charters in Spain, Turkey and Malta for the 2020 season.
The site has come a long way from those first days, but we’ve been winning awards for customer service and for being the best charter agency in Europe along the way, and obviously we’ve had loads of happy customers, so we always knew we were doing something right.
So Sailing holidays. Why should our readers go on a sailing holiday?
AT: If they’ve not yet been on a sailing holiday, then they’re missing out: there’s nothing quite as blissful as taking your own private yacht or catamaran out into the Med and having your own voyage, visiting all sorts of different islands, villages, restaurants, caves, beaches, castles…
The sun on your back, the wind in your hair, the sea gently lapping against the side of the boat… such views, such adventure… the people, the sights, the food… dolphins, sea-turtles, whales…
You can dive into the sea to cool down, you’re never more than a few metres from a well-stocked fridge, you can learn to sail – or not – and the marina is usually at the heart of wherever you’re visiting, so you get to stay in some incredible locations. You can charter a boat and sail it into Capri, Mykonos, Cannes, Monte Carlo, Santorini, Dubrovnik…
Or better, anchor up somewhere remote and really get a sense of being away from it all.
Travelling by wind is obviously sustainable travel, there’s no drama about sun-loungers, and it’s such a great place to take friends, family, kids because a week away at sea is a great bonding experience.
TT: It’s a very idyllic lifestyle, and it gives you so much more than a traditional beach holiday or staying in a villa. Tell them to call or email us and we’ll help them get something booked!
I think you’ve persuaded me! So how is PlainSailing.com different from other charter agency sites?
TT: We’re different in so many ways, so it’s difficult to know where to start to explain it all: firstly, we’ve built our business from the eyes of the customer, so everything – finding a boat, booking a boat – has been deliberately built with what they want or need to see.
Secondly, and with that in mind, we’re constantly innovating our site to make it as cutting edge as possible, and make it as easy to use as it possibly can be: so we were the first site to have a LiveChat function on, our filters for refining a search of available boats are the best on the internet, and we’ve got the most responsive customer service team in the world!
Seriously – we’ve won awards for our customer service, and that’s because we offer a very personal service, where people have easy access to all the information they need, we respond to emails within minutes, and we’re in touch with our clients by WhatsApp when they’re on the water, passing on weather information, checking they’re ok, etc… We genuinely care about all our customers.
It’s not just about the sales journey either: we have researched the most incredibly detailed destination guides, and our tech team spent months developing a ‘sailing distance calculator’ which lets people click around a map to get distances in nautical miles – just bits and pieces to give customers another level of information and support. We really do try to think of everything – last season, we sent out personal pre-holiday parcels to our clients, to help whet their appetite for sailing.
Thirdly, the quality of our boats…
AT: Yeah, we only work with professional boat charter operators who we have met, know, and who we trust to look after our clients. Other sites will have 20,000 or 50,000 boats listed, in all manner of locations, but we’re really focussed on quality – we only want to work with the very best.
That’s because it’s easiest and best for us if we can say to customers ‘come sail with us, and we’ll sort you out a great boat at a great price’ and they come and sail and are happy. We don’t want people to get there and be unhappy about the boat, or the customer service they get when they arrive at the marina, or whatever. So we cherry-pick: you can trust that you’ll only find top quality boats on PlainSailing.com.
So we’re very selective about who we work with, and we only offer maybe 1,500 or 2,000 boats, and only over 20 or 30 bases in the Med, but we can guarantee they’re all in great condition, and we can guarantee our customers that they’ll have a fantastic time on them.
TT: Plus, we’re UK-based, we’ve won awards for being the best in the business, our customer feedback is exceptional – 4.9 out of 5 at the moment – and we genuinely want each and every one of our customers to have not just a good, but a brilliant holiday.
Sounds good, and you’re clearly both quite passionate about the business. Where would you recommend to go sailing or where was your last sailing holiday and who with?
TT: I can recommend what I did last summer – we chartered a big catamaran from Salerno in Italy and sailed down the Amalfi coast, stopping at Amalfi and Sorrento before sailing over to Capri, where we anchored up for the night in Marina Piccola. Then we sailed over to Corricella on the island of Procida – that’s a stunning little town, very colourful – and then back past Capri to spend a night in Positano before returning home. That was with a mix of family and friends, including our 3 and 1 year olds.
AT: My last trip was around the Cyclades islands in Greece – they’re only a days’ sail from Athens, but it’s like going to another world! Beautiful little islands, Kithnos sand bar, Mykonos old town, the ancient ruins at Delos, and doing the pilgrimage up to the cathedral at Tinos. Really friendly locals, great tavernas and everything is so relaxing. That was with a group of friends, and we had so much fun that we actually booked another sailing holiday for this year whilst we were still on that boat!
TT: But we can help people charter right across the Med – Greece and Croatia are the most popular areas, but there’s sublime sailing to be had in Italy, the French Riviera – imagine sailing into Cannes or Nice on your own boat? – then Turkey, Spain, Malta… the Kotor bay area in Montenegro is popular with superyachts because it’s an amazingly beautiful place to sail – it’s like a giant fjord, so you’re sailing in-between mountains. Crazy, really. But we’d basically recommend sailing from any of our bases!
And what’s next for PlainSailing.com?
TT: Well, we’ve just won another Travel & Hospitality Award, and a LuxLife Travel award for being the best Charter agency in Europe, which helps, and we’re flying in terms of bookings for the 2020 season at the moment, so even more of the same, for sure.
Outside of that, we’ve got a team going out to investigate the Caribbean sailing market later this year, and we’re hoping to find trusted charter partners in the Caribbean, Thailand and Australia within the next 12 months or so, so that we can start to offer sailing holidays out there too.
AT: Onwards and upwards, really. Bigger and better, with even better tech, and even more happy customers.
Ok, thanks for your time guys. I’ll ask you off the record about sorting me out with a catamaran charter in Croatia this summer.
AT: Sure thing!