With Dubai hoping to become one of the world’s premier superyacht destinations, we consider whether the emirate’s focus on the superyacht market, rather than the boating market as a whole, will be to the detriment of its long-term development plans.
“I strongly believe that, unless we have a thriving small-to-medium-sized boat business, the superyacht business in Dubai will not succeed,” starts Steve Corbett, CEO of Dubai-based JLS Yachts. “A number of the subcontractors over here are going out of business because the rules and regulations that govern the small boat market have become so strict, long-winded and costly that they have driven everyone away from boating. We have done miracles with the superyacht market, but I keep trying to explain to people that unless Dubai has a vibrant small boat market, then we are going to lose the subcontractors and eventually we will lose the superyachts as well.”
The rules and regulations that Corbett refers to include the creation of a law that requires boat buyers to have a minimum wage of at least 25,000 (€6,293) dirhams a month, which according to Corbett immediately cuts out around three quarters of the market, as well as the cessation of joint ownership models and a ban on keeping boats outside villas, to name but a few.
“All these silly little things have taken the fun out of the small boat market,” continues Corbett. “If they truly believe that the market can survive off superyachts alone, then they have done a fantastic job destroying the rest of the market.
"...the boat industry is dying a very quick death.”
“When I first came to Dubai, 23 years ago, everybody had a boat. Everyone went to the water; it was an incredibly vibrant and enjoyable scene. There would be competition within the marinas, with people wanting to have a bigger boat than their neighbour and this drove growth. In Dubai there are two choices for entertainment: go to the water or go to the desert. But they have now made the water such an unattractive proposition that the boat industry is dying a very quick death.”
With Dubai planning to become the Riviera of the Middle East, Corbett believes that there needs to be some fundamental changes in policy. When one considers the world’s most popular superyacht destinations in either the Mediterranean, Florida or Caribbean, the one thing that they all have in common is a thriving small boat scene that has created the foundation to build community and commerce, which in turn has attracted the large superyachts. This foundation has allowed suppliers, subcontractors, shipyards and various businesses to thrive.
“The various suppliers in Dubai are not able to survive on the superyacht business that is only available for five months of the year; they require a domestic market to stay afloat,” explains Corbett. “As an example, without boats there is no need for crew and without crew there is no need for training. We recently had to close our school in Abu Dhabi and all the other schools have cancelled their trade licenses, so training is nearly dead and buried in Dubai along with crew placement.”
That being said, there are a number of large infrastructure projects ongoing in Dubai, many of which have berths for smaller boats. “Dubai Harbour is opening up 700 berths with spaces afforded to vessels as small as eight to 15m. They are building the infrastructure but the boats just aren’t coming,” says Corbett.
With these projects continuing full steam ahead, Corbett suggests that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum may not necessarily be aware of the dire situation that Dubai’s boating market is hurtling towards.
“I think the Sheikh would be horrified if he knew the truth, but people aren’t willing to tell him. The various departments involved are on a power trip and they are unwilling to relinquish what power they have for the benefit of the market as a whole. The various government departments have created so many hoops to jump through that people have simply stopped jumping,” concludes Corbett.
From 11-12 March 2020, The International Superyacht Summit will consider the health of the UAE’s superyacht market and how it relates to the wider global market. To find out more about the International Superyacht Summit 2020 click here.
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