The fourth Singapore Yacht Show closed its doors, shut its gates and pulled in the passerelle on the evening of Sunday 13th April amid a cacophony of boat horns and a well-deserved round of substantially more than three cheers. Invited guests headed for the Boater’s Bar to start the post mortems, and Event Director Phil Blake scored a fistful of brownie points as he announced, 'the party’s on us, as long as the drinks last!'
Four days last week at the Singapore Yacht Show and the previous two at the Asia Pacific Yacht Conference allowed a lot of time to talk to marine leisure industry delegates (at the Conference) and then dealers, yacht brokers, boat builders, designers, charter brokers and even owners at the Show. What did we find out about what they think of Asia?
It has been assumed for a while now that European and North American builders and charterers are eyeing up Asia as the answer to all their economic woes; that Asia is seen as stuffed to the rafters with billionaires just waiting to spend big cash on big boats; and that all it needs is a nudge in the right direction to open the floodgates of a dollar depository bigger than Fort Knox. The good news is that although many western-based companies are indeed looking at Asia, they are doing so more circumspectly than previously assumed.
Most conversations centred around three subjects – Regulations, Infrastructure, and Geography.
Private boating regulations in Asia are generally not as mature or well-codified as in, say, Europe. For example, sailing your boat from Genoa (Italy) to Nice (France) is not a problem, but cruising from one island in Indonesia to another may not be so simple. China as far as we know still doesn’t have a box to tick on the Boat Registration Form that says ‘private yacht’. Try sailing into a Vietnamese port unannounced and you may well be in for some unpleasant regulatory surprises. And so on.
Secondly, Asia does not yet have the infrastructure to support the marina-hopping activities of chartered boats or, indeed, any increase in the overall fleet of smaller pleasure boats. Hong Kong is ‘full’, and Singapore is pretty much that way too. With a few notable exceptions, Chinese marinas tend to be more of a lifestyle marketing hook for property developments than a place to moor and maintain an expensive floating asset, although they’ll do fine for boat owners more interested in parking than cruising. And while we are in China, so to speak, don’t forget the killer 43% import duty on foreign-built boats.
Lastly, Asia is big. It’s only 220nm from the Costa Smeralda to Capri, but it is more than 700nm from Singapore to the Mergui Archipelago, and 2,000nm from Jakarta to Raja Ampat - in other words, a long way between victualling stops. No good at all for those who like to see and been seen, but very good indeed for the more adventurous souls who prefer a bit of exploration and seclusion. For Captains and operators this is a much tougher exercise in logistics than simply moving a boat load of charter guests from Anguilla to Antigua (95nm).
The other item that came out of the Conference and again talking to Yacht Show exhibitors is that the nascent boating hubs of Asia are only just starting to get a voice. Marine Industry Associations in the regions are but fledglings, and they need to strengthen their voices and increase communication with respective governments. No dialogue means no development of infrastructure, no development of useful regulations and so on. An industry which has the potential to infuse considerable sums of tourist, service, engineering and sales dollars into the region needs to shout louder.
So much for making small talk at the Conference and the Yacht Show. A liberal interpretation of the function of a boat or yacht show will allow that whilst sales are the ultimate function of the event, a meeting of minds and some cross-fertilisation of ideas among industry professionals is important too. So that’s all good.
Managing Director of Singapore Yacht Events, Andy Treadwell, is inclined towards liberality. 'Once upon a time a boat show was just a platform, a venue, as provided by the location owner. A bit like providing a pontoon berth and saying, ‘There you go,’ without switching on the electrical supply, or the water, or the comms connections. There are still plenty of shows that adhere to that model.' Treadwell believes that a quality event today needs to go a good deal further. 'Now a boat show is – additionally – about facilitating sales. A boat show is a marketing business for the yachting industry, not just a platform provider.' And that’s what they are trying to do at the Singapore Yacht Show. It means working with the builders, the dealers, the brokers and suppliers, and above all it means helping to bring in to the show the clientele. 'There are plenty of people in Asia,' says Treadwell, 'with the sort of disposable wealth that goes with luxury yachting. They just haven’t discovered boats yet, and I see it as our job to open their eyes to the possibilities of boating as a leisure activity, and then introduce them to the people with the hardware… the builders and so on. We are not after attracting numbers for the sake of numbers. We want quality, boating, numbers coming to the show. Achieving that is a marketing operation in its own right.'
Ah, numbers again. Numbers are notoriously hard to pin down at an event like a yacht show, but they are valuable as a marketing tool and are, therefore, desirable. At the SYS, and even with pre-registration and registration systems in place, RFID bracelets for those logged in, and scans to record everyone entering a marquee hall or going down onto the pontoons, numbers are hard to come by. Treadwell has no illusions about the perfection (or otherwise) of the counting system. 'What we do know is that we had a minimum of 14,000 visitors, exhibitors and media entering the show over four days. One visitor going into the exhibition halls and then going down to the in-water exhibits is still just one visitor.'
Surely, 14,000 people brought into proximity with boats over four days is a good thing, right? With the probable exception of the China (Shanghai) International Boat Show which – last time we visited – was more of a trade show than a consumer event, Singapore Yacht Show feels to have established itself as the premier boating event in Asia. We are looking forward to next year already, and to meeting some new and interesting players in the industry. We are sure that we will learn something from them, and if we can help them with some local knowledge, all well and good.
Let the dialogue continue. Singapore Yacht Show 2015 will be held 23-26 April at ONE?15 Marina, Sentosa Cove. See www.singaporeyachtshow.com