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Not all publicity is good publicity

Olivier Blanchet outlines the importance of changing the public perception of yachting…

Guest Author Olivier Blanchet, Head of Jet and Yacht Finance at BNP Paribas, outlines the importance of the industry's perception problem...

Last year, I was in conversation with people involved in the yacht- management business and they said in near unison: “It’s always fantastic to get quoted in the national press, even if it doesn’t illuminate our industry with the most flattering light.”

To me, this quote appears out of place, inadequate and old-fashioned. Meanwhile, superyachts are being negatively mentioned in the mainstream press on a daily basis. Primarily, this attention is either focused on the sanctioned owners due to the war in Ukraine or because these ultimate toys for UHNWIs contribute to global warming and negatively impact the oceans.

As we all should know, the industry is implementing many significant initiatives to effect positive change: from pioneering new technologies to improving energy efficiency to the reduction of noise pollution, streamlining of on-board operations, new sustainable products promoted by designers for luxury interior outfitting or the reduction of toxic antifouling products, to name but a few.

However, one paradox as I see it is that class societies are late into this process. More proactive recognition of these innovations could place class at the forefront. To date, they’ve not yet found an agreement to propose new norms in terms of sustainability or acknowledged an environmental rating addressing the yacht’s life cycle.

The industry has to speak loud, clearly and with a unified voice to explain what progress has been made. The first action must be to measure the environmental footprint and, when this is done, make an industry-wide commitment to reduce it between 2030 and 2050. With more than 6,000 30m-plus yachts worldwide this may seem daunting, but it’s not insurmountable if there’s a willingness to adopt a more homogenous methodology.

As an industry, we’ve become convinced that it’s a strategic issue to remain so fragmented. It will become a challenge for shipyards and brokers to sell new-build and second-hand yachts to more discerning clients who may not wish to be seen as contributors to global warming and gravediggers of biodiversity.

The reputational risk for the sector and its clients is severe. The fast-paced and clickbait-driven media landscape, and its tendency toward public shaming, is a key risk for UHNWIs running a business for which they also have to deal with ESG concerns on the corporate side.

It’s currently nearly impossible to go yachting emission-free, apart from carbon offsetting. As a solution, offsetting cannot be considered as a right to pollute for UHNWIs otherwise it will be perceived negatively once again. On the contrary, owners and shipyards have to demonstrate that they are building state-of-the-art in terms of environmental footprint reduction as opposed to offsetting emissions after the fact.

The latter point is necessary but not sufficient to make the superyacht industry acceptable in the eyes of public opinion. Considering that a superyacht is the ultimate ‘asset’ for a UHNWI to buy, the social utility is perceived as very limited. More importantly, a superyacht is seen to crystallise the gap between the rich and the poor. Therefore, the utility has to be demonstrated and reinforced in the public eye. 

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Not all publicity is good publicity

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