Ahead of the launch of The Superyacht Annual Report 2018: Wealth, I consider whether the superyacht market might benefit from the development of digital platforms as a means of circumnavigating issues of social anxiety and, therefore, encouraging more people to engage with the superyacht market. That the superyacht industry is failing to convert the rapidly growing global pool of ultra-high-net-worth individuals into superyacht users, be it ownership or charter, has been a constant source of discussion in recent years. The reasons for this failure are multifarious; everything from infrastructure to culture to changing consumption habits, and much in between, can be counted amongst the causes of the superyacht market’s sluggish conversion rate. However, could it be that some wealthy individuals are simply put off engaging with the market because they are intimidated by its nuances?
This is a topic I have considered for some time but, for lack of concrete evidence and for fear of angering every industry stakeholder currently wearing Sebago boat shoes, Gucci Loafers or something bought from Loro Piana, I avoided the subject. This all changed however during the Cannes Yachting Festival when one well known industry stakeholder regaled my colleague and I with a short story that highlighted this exact issue.
While at the Cannes Yachting Festival, the industry stakeholder in question received an email from a superyacht owner and client of his. Within the email the owner announced that he would be coming to Cannes, but that he was concerned about what he should wear to the event.
For those who have grown up with yachting, superyachting or otherwise, and are therefore well educated in its myriad nuances and idiosyncrasies, it may seem like a silly concern. However – and I speak as one who has experienced this – when you are new to the world of yachting, it can be intimidating. No one, for instance, explains beforehand that you need to remove your shoes before stepping on board a yacht. Indeed, even when one talks about yachts, there is a whole language of terms to learn. It seems trivial, but a series of social faux pas can lead to awkwardness, anxiety and a lack of future engagement.
No one likes to look the fool and I assume this remains the case for the world’s wealthiest individuals. Unlike the bygone era of yachting, which was dominated by old money and the upper classes, many of whom experienced yachting from a young age, today’s ultra-wealthy class of individuals is, for the most part, dominated by self-made professionals, perhaps best characterised by the rise of the tech billionaires and the boom in Asian wealth generation. Many of today’s UHNWIs simply do not have a background in yachting and, therefore, have not been furnished with the insider knowledge required to seamlessly fit the yachting mould.
I believe it is important to note that, for many owners, the yachting image remains an attractive proposition and the inherent sense of inclusivity and community that comes when one develops the nuances and idiosyncrasies associated with yachting should not be dismissed out of hand. However, perhaps the removal of social awkwardness is another, albeit minor, argument to support the development of digital brokerage and charter tools as an alternative option to traditional models?
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