History tells us that the imposition of Western socio-economic models on Eastern societies rarely produces the results we expect, and this has been as true with superyachting infrastructure in China and southeast Asia as it has been with any number of previous attempts to mould the East.
“If you go back five, six or seven years, everybody believed that China was going to be the golden goose that laid the golden egg,” starts Bill Green, technical director of Camper & Nicholsons Marinas. “But this doesn’t seem to have taken shape at all. My thoughts have always been that their business model was flawed.”
When you look at Chinese attempts to enter the superyacht market, they have, on many occasions, taken the form of large marinas that are looking to attract only the wealthiest of individuals and recoup their initial investment quickly through exceedingly expensive membership fees - often in excess of $200,000. What these marina developers have failed to consider is that the premier Western yacht clubs, as well as the Eastern clubs that have successfully followed in their footsteps, were formed organically, naturally evolving from a passion for the sea.
“What the Chinese developers have done is try and look at the models of exclusive clubs in Singapore and Hong Kong,” continues Green. “However, if you look closely, most of these clubs, with a couple of extremely high profile exceptions, are ailing and struggling to maintain membership levels.”
The Western yachting model assumes interest from ultra-high-net-worth individuals and their superyachts - and with good reason. As a pastime yachting’s popularity has been proven in the West time and time again, making it possible for new hubs to emerge confident of custom. The swift development and ever growing popularity of marinas such as Porto Montenegro highlights this effectively.
However, it is not all doom and gloom and the golden goose may yet bare the egg that everyone, albeit with tempered optimism, is still hoping for. Marinas in China and southeast Asia have gradually accepted that their current model simply will not be effective in their domestic markets. Investors are becoming increasingly aware that in order to stimulate interest in the superyacht sector, yachting culture needs to be promoted in general. For this to be successful new developments must engage the middle classes as well as the super rich.
“It’s pure local socio-economics,” Green explains. “It is very affordable for the middle classes to buy a $500,000 yacht. But, they don’t want to buy a boat worth $500,000 and then pay $200,000 in membership fees. Now we are talking to clients and encouraging them to look at smaller marinas with a diversity of berth types so we can attract passionate individuals and stimulate the culture.” The 15m owners of today may well be the 30m owners of tomorrow, or perhaps it is their children that will make the step up from yacht to superyacht.
“I have been working with the region for 20 years and this is the first time that I have seen government initiatives where they are trying to help the industry as a whole,” concludes Green. “It is also the first time I have seen professionals in the industry getting together in a coordinated manner rather than competing.”
There are of course myriad other factors that are stopping the Chinese and southeast Asian markets from taking off at the speed we would hope. Whether it be the strains of cruising such a large area with so little infrastructure, a lack of refit facilities, import tax, VAT or visa’s, we can all agree that there is much to be done. But, at least progress is being made.