A Darwinian moment - the evolution of superyachting
Our chairman looks ahead to what a brighter, post-COVID-19 future could look like…
There’s a wonderful quote from Charles Darwin that I’ve adapted slightly; “it’s not the strongest in the superyacht market that survives, it’s those most adaptable or responsive to change”.
It is fairly obvious that we are heading into a Brave New World, created by something we can’t see, a tiny strand of RNA, named COVID-19, an until-now unknown strain of coronavirus, which has caused chaos, isolation, death, disruption and economic fall-out across industries, globally. We can’t escape the impact, and with events like the Monaco Grand Prix cancelled and global travel grounded, it is very likely that we will endure a few months that will require reflection and a rethinking of our industry, our business models and how we adapt to the impending change that has been forced upon us.
Watching stock markets shift and slide, seeing billionaires lose billions of dollars from their asset value, observing unprecedented bail-outs and financial support from governments, predicting a significant change in how we live and do business, the future is likely to be very different. We’re watching the world’s wealthy invest in huge philanthropic initiatives and support scientific research projects to either find a vaccine or to support communities that are likely to be economically or personally decimated by the virus.
I find it hard to contemplate how the world will behave after COVID-19. Perhaps mankind will think more philosophically and intelligently about what they need or how they behave. It may take longer than we all think for the aftermath to add up and return to the new normal. Or once it’s all over, we will breathe a huge sigh of relief and go back to the way we were, becoming conspicuous consumers of anything and everything we don’t need. To be honest, this keeps me awake at night, trying to contemplate what is on the superyacht horizon.
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, the virus impacts our lives as we know it, for the next six months minimum let’s suppose that our immunity develops as a community and we start to adapt to Coronavirus and our antibodies fight back. That takes us all the way through until September, a time at the end of our normal cruising season, when the superyacht industry is in a heightened state of excitement, showcasing our latest portfolios of products and projects, inviting buyers to come and spend hours walking around decks and listening to designers and brokers, extolling the virtues of ownership. But perhaps we’re forgetting the fact that many shipyards are currently in lockdown and all of those new projects slated for showtime, are more than likely to be forced into major delays. If we all start to feel confident before September and owners decide to have a later season, or charter guests have an urge to escape the madness, the delayed cruising season may just impact the boat show season.
So, here’s a thought to consider. What if 2020 was the year when no boat show actually took place, apart from say a new type of Monaco, and METSTRADE, and then everyone used this year and the early part of 2021, to rethink, refocus and explore what we’ve all been saying for years - that there are too many shows, too much money is spent in a branded ‘arms race’ and the customer experience is not exactly delivering on their expectations. Just consider the time and money we would save, by not trying to be anywhere and everywhere.
It’s actually quite hard to consider that hundreds of buyers will be ready to spend their dollars on superyachts, after this pandemic has disrupted the world, but stranger things have happened. I observed the recent SuperyachtTimes marketing webinar, which seemed to focus much of its attention on shows and events, hardly surprising as this has been the biggest COVID casualty. There was talk of virtual shows and major players pausing their investment in physical shows, until they know a little more about the future. Essentially, we all know that marketing teams will require months to consider logistics, strategies and campaigns that will try to draw attention to their portfolio. But the longer this goes on, the less time we will all have to plan and execute something that will work effectively. So, the autumn show season is likely to be a time of major dynamic shifts.
Therefore, here’s an idea: why not use 2020 to reset the balance, and to adapt and respond to this changing landscape? If Monaco Yacht Show becomes the first major meeting point after the crisis and then, in combination with METSTRADE, these were the only two major events that everyone supported in the remaining part of 2020, just imagine and consider what you could all do differently. One could be the biggest celebration of life on the water, post COVID-19, and a chance to hug, kiss and converse in close proximity, and for buyers to enjoy the fleet again. The other could be the biggest platform for change in how we do business, what we have learned and endured, but more importantly, how we have changed our thinking and how we have adapted to the Brave New World. Once we come out the other side of the virus crisis, I truly hope that we will all do the things we often say we should do, like be smarter, stop wasting money and put an end to the habitual nature of, how we do things because ‘we’ve always done it this way’.
Caveat: We obviously have no idea how long the lockdowns will last and how long the virus will impact the world. Social distancing may be a new thing for the rest of 2020 and customers may not be comfortable in a crowd of international visitors. I’m not convinced that virtual shows (of which I’m sure there will be many) will ever replace the feeling of stepping on board a new yacht or having lunch at the YCM, but maybe the time has come for less crowds and more clients being allowed into the boat show experience. What we can learn, what we have learned, and what we will learn, will all lead to the evolution of superyachting.
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