If it looks like everyone on your feed in search of a socially-distant retreat is vacationing in Tulum right now, it’s because they are. The Mexican retreat destination has quickly become one of the most attractive destinations for Black American tourists. What initially was sought out as a place of peace and refuge within the craziness of the pandemic for William Lee and Jon Roberts when they traveled to Tulum nearly six months ago quickly became home to their thriving business venture.
Lee, a tech industry founder, and one of the minds behind Socionado, and Roberts, a hospitality industry veteran and curator of MelaninTulum, met by chance, as part of the growing expat community. That meeting between two like-minded strangers evolved into the premiere yacht rental business that has serviced the likes of Megan Thee Stallion and Trey Songz, among other celebrities, influencers and tourists.
Offering a fleet of affordable luxury yachts, ranging from 51’ to 80’, co-founders Lee, Roberts and head of partnerships Ryan Fletcher have made a Yacht Club Company experience synonymous with having a good time in Tulum, and the buzz around their business is only growing. For ESSENCE, Lee speaks with ESSENCE about the Yacht Club concept, plans for expansion, and why Tulum has stolen the hearts (and Instagram feeds) of Black travelers.
What makes the Yacht Club Company experience different, outside of its geographic location?
Our specialized routes, our alcohol options, our yacht experiences, our events and our food menu. We’ve created premium experiences that cater to POC because we understand what our people want. We knew we were filling a huge void and it’s amazing to see the support we’ve garnered from the traveling Black community.
An example of a unique event that we’re hosting is our Valentine’s day event. We’ve taken a different approach with this particular event by only allowing “singles” in Tulum to attend. We’re calling it “Singles only.” At Yacht Club, we plan to continue to develop these fun and creative experiences. Our team members, Ryan Fletcher and Jon Curry, have hospitality backgrounds and they lead the way with curating our unique experiences.
Why was it important for you to bring the Yacht Club concept to Tulum?
When I first traveled to Tulum in June of 2020, I quickly fell in love with the culture, food and the people of the Yucatan Peninsula. When I began to explore the tourist areas closer to the beach, I realized that most of the experiences were curated for white Americans. Black travelers spend over 1 billion dollars per year, yet many travel destinations don’t feel the need to cater to our crowd. We are now changing that and yachting experiences were the first on our list in Tulum.
In the midst of a global pandemic, what sparked the desire for you both to move to Mexico?
Like many others, the quarantine was weighing on me mentally. I needed a get away and Tulum was always on my bucket list. When my good friend Bianca was able to get into Tulum, I booked my ticket the next day. My mind was made up.
What are your plans to expand Yacht Club Company?
We plan to build a membership program for traveling people of color. Our membership program would include exclusive events, access to premier locations and discounted/vip access to our hotel and restaurant partners. What we’re accomplishing in Tulum is the model for what we plan to do in many other locations around the world. We want to be the Soho house for yachting and premium experiences globally. This is just the beginning!
How does this experience impact the local Tulum community, if at all?
We’ve partnered with H20sun Cruises, the biggest fleet of yachts in Puerto Aventuras, who helps with our operations and the management of the sea vessels. Most of the employees at H20 are locals and the company was very close to laying off many staff members during the pandemic. It’s been incredible for us to give people in the local Tulum community steady employment through the influx of customers we were able to provide and we hope to continue to give locals many more opportunities.
To learn more about the company and book an experience, visit yachtclub.company.