Published: Monday, 10 April 2017

Over 160 Marine Industry professionals have gathered for the ninth Asia Pacific Yachting Conference (April 5-6) being held at ONE˚15 Marina, in Singapore.

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(Photos: BluiPod - Asia Pacific Yachting Conference)

This year’s theme – “Towards increased regional cooperation to promote marine tourism in the Asia Pacific” – aims to highlight the need for the ASEAN countries to work together in order to grow boating in the region.

Andy Treadwell, CEO and Founder of Singapore Yacht Events, opened the conference by saying there has been “some progress, but for real change the governments in Asia need to embrace the needs of the boating community and work with the industry to grow boating in the region.” 

Martin Redmayne, Conference Chairman and Chairman of The Superyacht Group said: “With only 5,000 superyachts in the world, it is a relatively small market, but it can be a significant wealth generator in its own right. The more that governments can do to encourage superyachts coming into the region, the bigger the economic benefits will be.

Asia and the wider region has plenty to offer on the destination front, and the next group of speakers from Tahiti and Indonesia presented how their countries are embracing the boating communities.

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Manoa Rey and Vaihere Lissant (Tahiti Tourisme) shared their experiences of encouraging superyachts to visit their region. Tahiti is actively targeting yacht owners, Captains and charter brokers, and has introduced simplified clearance procedures to encourage charter operations in the region. Tahiti is also educating local corporations and communities to the economic benefits that superyachts bring with them.

The Indonesian government is also keen to encourage development of the upper end of the leisure marine industry. Prof Dr. Indroyono Soesilo highlighted the maritime biodiversity of Indonesia that makes the country an ideal boating destination, and although there is some lag between government policy and implementation, a number of sailing initiatives have been developed to bring yachts to the region.

Indonesia has been concentrating on attracting cruise ship custom of late, and anticipates being able to convert the experience into further welcoming private vessels and superyachts. An extensive programme of sailing rallies over the years culminated in the presentation of Sail Sabang 2017.

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‘Progress Updates in the Asia Pacific Region’ was the topic for a panel discussion on Day 1 that included Nigel Beatty (Japan), Andy Shorten (Indonesia), Rico Stapel (Thailand) and Ruurd Van Putten (Vietnam), with the general opinion being that Asia needs to champion its own cause and actively engage by connecting itself to itself across the region.

In Thailand, visiting boats are getting bigger, and the charters are getting longer. The Thailand Charter Licence story has progressed, but is not yet entirely resolved despite the best efforts of the Thai Marine Business Association and strong support from the Ministry of Transport and Marine Dept. Details lying with the Revenue and Immigration Depts remain to be resolved.

The discussion ‘Designing yachts for a new generation of cruising in Asia’ produced some interesting observations from Erwin Bamps (CEO Gulf Craft), Mark Stothard (Echo Yachts) and Stephen White (Sovren House Group). The questions discussed included: Does the ‘standard model’ of a superyacht, privately owned, and accommodating 12 guests, hold good today? Or are Asian owners look for a bigger corporate entertainment platform?

The ‘Cleaning up Asian Waters’ panel discussion looked at how ASEAN government initiatives are making progress on the subject of marine pollution. Internationally recognised conservationist David Jones (Plastic Ocean Foundation) talked about the business models associated with sustainability.

Magafir Ali (Community Campaigner, Banda) showed how communities in Indonesia are actively supporting the clean up process, and Zara Tremlett (Phuket Yacht Haven) addressed environmental issues facing marinas.

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Closing the day was a discussion on ‘How Asia can learn from the Mediterranean’. Industry specialist Ken Hickling (Sherpa 63), John Leonida (Clyde & Co), Oscar Siches (Marina Consultant) and Stephen White (Sovren House Group) offered insights into the homogeneity of organisation in the Med that is a long way away from the fragmented collection of regulations that face would-be Asian superyacht visitors.

Back at the tables on Thursday morning, and Peter Staalsmid (Sevenstar Yacht Transport) brought the conference up to date with ‘Trends in Yacht Migration’. 

In 2009, in the aftermath of the GFC, Sevenstar was doing good business shipping boats out of the USA and out of Italy. The infrastructure in Asia to support greater numbers of visiting (big) vessels is still yet to develop, and Staalsmid’s advice to the various regional governments interested in cultivating high end yacht tourism is to “keep it simple, like they did in Montenegro.”

Staalsmid said: “What Asia needs most is visibility. This region is safe, accessible – it’s closer (to the Med) and bigger than anyone in Europe realises. The charter regulations are not there yet, but they will come.”

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A panel discussion involving MaryAnne Edwards (Superyacht Australia), Kiran Haslam (Princess Yachts), Vaihere Lissant (Tahiti Tourisme) and Lies Sol (Northrop & Johnson), considered marketing Asia as a yachting destination. The consensus was that, since Asia is a large geographical region, marketing should ideally be on a regional basis.

That would mean the various stakeholders – Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, maybe the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and across the Pacific all the way to Tahiti – clubbing together to market ‘destination Asia’ in concert. 

A weighty percentage of the world boating population has difficulties finding Asia on a map, and has less idea what it looks like. In short, the Asia–Pacific needs more promotion.

‘Where are the Asian government representatives at this conference’ came from the floor, along with a dialogue on whether infrastructure development should be the remit of the private or the governmental sector, comments about some regulatory successes achieved by the Asia Pacific Superyacht Association and the puzzling question of why the boating industry in Asia is very much run by ‘foreigners’.

When it comes to ‘Engaging the Asian Market’, Fabio Ermetto (Benetti) noted that Asian boat owners are not keen on chartering out their boats, and increasingly tend to view big yachts and superyachts as an ‘experience platform’ dedicated to the entertainment of family and friends – with a bit of business entertaining thrown in.

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Allen Leung (Heysea Yachts) acknowledged that the China market has potential but is not yet big by any measure, and Anthony Gould (Galileo Academy) pointed out that some 70% of Galileo graduates come from outside Asia – and then continue on to find placements on Asian-based yachts.

‘Crew’ are very much recognised as part of the support that makes up the superyachting experience, and owners should be encouraged to run their boats through competent yacht management companies – although the Asian experience is often that owners often try to run their vessels “on the cheap” and this is a root cause of poor maintenance, invalid warranty claims, and excessively fast crew turnover – all of which contribute towards spoiling the ‘yachting experience’ in its entirety.

More that 12 hours of discussions, panels, and presentations generated a lively exchange of views over two days. Chairman Martin Redmayne’s blueprint for the development of yachting in Asia will be framed and preserved, and delegates at the Asia Pacific Yachting Conference 2018 can look forward to checking whether some of the thoroughly excellent contributions have been executed.