In January this year I went to the London Boat Show for the first time. In fact I went to a boat show outside Asia for the first time – and it was quite an eye-opener in terms of sheer size (and everyone kept telling me that it was a mere shadow of its former self). Wow.
At some time or other probably every boat show in the region has stood on the rooftops and broadcast its claim to be ‘the biggest in Asia’ and some them are just mountebanks and liars. Some years ago I cornered the PR and Marketing Manager of one of the Hong Kong shows and asked her to justify the grandiose claims of her latest press release. This proved to be impossible, and the lady suddenly had an attack of busy-ness. Over the past many years we have been to boat shows in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, China and Hong Kong and have kicked a few tyres along the way.
And now for something completely different. Four years ago Andy Treadwell, formerly of the Informa Group (owners of the Monaco Yacht Show and a number of other notably glitzy events) decided that Asia deserved a better boat show – one that would actually show off some of the really high-end products in the boating world, something unashamedly aspirational in its attraction to Asia’s burgeoning population of High Net Worth Individuals.
In the space of just four years, and with the assistance of Arthur Tay’s ONE?15 Marina which is surely the most glam boating facility in Singapore, the Singapore Yacht Show has gone head-to-head with the city’s other event, Boat Asia, which closed down after last year’s lacklustre event. This year, the Singapore Yacht Show has attracted Alloy Yachts’ spectacular 65m ketch, Vertigo, designed by Philippe Briand, as well as another Briand design, the spectacular and thoroughly different 60m expedition motoryacht Exuma. Now add to the pot – or the marina, if you prefer – Cloud 9 at 45m, and a further nine motoryachts and a four-masted sailing vessel over 40m and, yes, Virginia, we’ve got a yacht show.
And not only a yacht show, but the Asia Pacific Yachting Conference as well. Presentations from top quality builders including Perini Navi and Heesen, informational sessions from some of the most seasoned players in the Asian charter business, and some timely advice about ‘activation’ and ‘partnership’ (two words that have replaced ‘sponsorship’, we learned) kept 100-odd delegated engaged for two days, and at the same time gave them plenty of time for coffee breaks, lunches, and productive chitchat. The technical word is ‘networking’. Indeed, it is quite easy to imagine a situation where the same people are locked into a room for two days with an unlimited supply of sandwiches and beer, and at the end of it will have learned just as much as they did from the formal speeches. So much cheaper to run and easier to organise. Just a thought.
One question on almost everyone’s mind is why government authorities make it so damn hard to sail around Asia. Some interpretations of regulations are transparently based on corruption – the man in uniform is waiting for ‘a present’ – but even major international ports like Hong Kong and Singapore seem have a major blind spot where allowing private vessels to come and go is concerned. A superyacht visiting Hong Kong and granted a temporary stay and/or a cruising permit may not use her tender to take owner and guests ashore unless the tender is a Hong Kong-registered vessel. What? This smacks of stupidity for the sake of stupidity.
The conference enjoyed a hugely convivial evening on the Tuesday evening at a party sponsored (or activated) by AIMEX at the ONE?15 Boater’s Bar – a floating bar on a pontoon in the marina that was the source of huge amount angst a few years ago when the Singapore Marine Dept wouldn’t licence it because it wasn’t a boat, and the Liquor Licensing people wouldn’t go near it because it wasn’t on dry land. See what I mean about government departments?
Today, Thursday, the action shifted from Conference to Yacht Show. Some very eager press (self included) were here at 0830h for a promised 0900h visit to Vertigo, which morphed into an MOU signing ceremony between the SYS and the Singapore Institute of Technical Education – not the sort of thing you need to get out bed for unless you a government official.
There was still a great deal of activity, banging and hammering, going on throughout the morning, and then the show officially opened to the public at 1400h with the moment marked by a cacophony of horns from the assembled fleet of 111 boats totalling 2,260m LWL. If we are interested in the number of boats in a boat show rather than the number of people selling radio-controlled helicopters and sunglasses, then I respectfully submit that this is, indeed, The Biggest Boat Show in Asia.
Minutes later the heavens opened and had a good try at drowning the entire show and raising the level of water in the marina by a couple of feet. It was truly ferocious, so when nobody turned up for the Ferretti press conference the Italians phlegmatically abandoned it in favour of a bit more lunch.
The rain has stopped now, and the branding and bunting is hanging out to dry like oversized washing. Visitors are walking the docks taking a look at the Monte Carlos, Widers, Jeanneaus, Beneteaus, Grand Banks’, Princesses, Chris Craft and many many more. A total of 94 exhibitors range from luxury cars to art galleries to charter brokers and from deluxe whisky to. The scope of the SYS is a recognition of the fact that big expensive boats are part of a lifestyle that encompasses a whole range of accouterments – so why not cross-market them?
Tomorrow we will be down on the docks - weather permitting! – to garner opinions from some of the exhibitors about the show. Having started the day on Vertigo, we intend to finish up with a cocktail party on board Cloud 9. Tough, huh?