“Malaysia has spent the last five years building up its marina developments, and is still working on new facilities,” says Captain Nick Coombes, managing director at Asia Pacific Superyachts in Malaysia. “We have seen superyacht visitations increase by 15 per cent annually for the last five years. Primarily, I believe this is due to increased knowledge, with more and more superyacht captains realising that they can visit South-East Asia and still receive the same levels of service and support they are accustomed to in Europe.”
Based in Labuan, off the coast of Borneo in East Malaysia, is David Wharton, managing director of Marine Solutions Asia, who believes that there is potential for the superyacht industry to grow based on the maritime facilities that are already set up there. “There are few existing facilities specifically for superyachts, though the base marine industry is well established to support the large oil and gas fleet, so large haul-out and shed facilities are already established,” he explains. “We are working with property developers to increase the number of marinas and facilities in this region that can accommodate the growing number of visiting superyachts and those that are choosing to base here.”
And Wharton believes that there are several factors as to why the region has such dynamic growth potential. “Firstly there is where we are geographically,” he comments; “there are more yachts now visiting Australia and New Zealand because the governments there are taking steps with regards to regulations to be proactive in attracting superyachts. As a result, more yachts are passing through this region.
"The whole industry, particularly in brokerage, seems surprised that China hasn’t taken off as rapidly as expected and unleashed itself with more superyacht ownership."
“Another driver is the wealth that is coming out of Asia. The whole industry, particularly in brokerage, seems surprised that China hasn’t taken off as rapidly as expected and unleashed itself with more superyacht ownership. The Chinese government has been proactive in working to jointly develop several superyacht facilities up there, but it is still a communist country and you are perhaps not going to want to buy a 70-million dollar yacht and park it in a marina that is linked to the government. So we are seeing this as part of an opportunity in Malaysia and we hope to further develop brokerage in the next twelve months so that more Chinese nationals can keep their assets here.”
“Malaysia’s superyacht hub is still Langkawi,” adds Coombes, “as this is the only duty-free port on the West Coast. To a superyacht owner, visiting or basing out of a duty-free port will always work out cheaper.” The duty-free status and offshore tax structures available on Labuan Island are another factor that Wharton believes the region can capitalise on. "We plan to target the Asian markets like China and show these owners how we can structure them with offshore asset protection and keep their boats here maintained and serviced,” he says. “It is only a couple of hour’s flight to Hong Kong, Mandarin is commonly spoken, the government is reasonably investment friendly, the cultures and foods are familiar to them so it’s an attractive option.”
The superyacht businesses already established in Malaysia seem to be putting ineffort to work with the local authorities to increase the appeal of the area. "We are doing it in an intelligent way," explains Wharton. "Quite often the Asian model is 'build it and they will come,' but it doesn't always work like that. So we are encouraging them to build facilities and listen to our experience with regards to exactly what it is that the end customer is going to require." With the above factors already in place, and a concerted effort from the industry and local authorities, Malaysia could be seeing a bigger brokerage focus in the near future.
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