Sun, Aug 10, 2014 - Page 14 News List

Some like it yacht: Wind in the sails of Chinese market

By Sibastien Blanc  /  AFP, DALIAN, China

Li Wang, center, and his family pose on July 5 at a boat show at a port in the northeastern city of Dalian, China.

Photo: AFP

With a fortune made in Chinese finance, Li Wang already has six cars, including a Bentley and a Porsche, and his eye on his next multimillionaires’ toy: a boat.

“I only know a little about yachts at the moment,” the 27-year-old said, strolling in golden sunglasses among the sailboats, catamarans and motor cruisers lining the jetties at a boat show in Dalian. “It’s not a big deal. Buying a yacht is on my schedule.”

Li epitomizes the Chinese buyers being targeted by the world’s yachtbuilders, whose vessels can cost as much as US$100 million, taxes not included.

Despite its long coastline and 1.35 billion-strong population — including thousands of multimillionaires — China has only an estimated 3,000 pleasure boats, and yachting remains a niche pastime.

In contrast, the US is said to have one watercraft, albeit including small boats, for every 15 inhabitants.

Traugott Kaminski, head of China operations for Italian yachtmaker Sanlorenzo, brought two yachts to China in 2003.

“There were no regulations, no port, no yachting culture,” he said, and even now the firm still has to “educate” first-time buyers.

However, others are “sophisticated customers who know what they want,” he said.

“Think about the car industry, 10 or 15 years ago nobody expected China would become the biggest market worldwide and the same thing will happen to the yachting industry,” he said.

In another parallel with the global vehicle business, two major European yachtbuilders — Sunseeker of Britain and Italy’s Ferretti — have been bought by Chinese companies in recent years.

Several thousand visitors attended the event in Dalian, on the shores of the Yellow Sea, and despite the constraints of 43 percent import taxes, limits on infrastructure and bitter northern winters, organizers said that “on-site sales occurred.”

Chinese buyers have different requirements to Westerners, Kaminski said.

“In Europe you will use the boat for a two or three-week cruise,” Kaminski said. “In China, you are using it for a day cruise, so you don’t need so many cabins. You need a big spa; you need entertainment space.”

In the West, the captain and crew are often seen as part of the family. Not so in China, where the wheelhouse and kitchen need to be separate.

Chinese clients also want a round table to eat at, a karaoke machine a mahjong table and more shade.

Marco Valle, sales director for Azimut, one of the world’s major yachtbuilders, remembers the first yacht he sold in China, about a decade ago, to a rich Shanghai businessman.

The client asked if it could be delivered without an engine, as he intended to keep it moored to show off to his contacts.

There are other contrasts.

“The market is really working in reverse,” said Paul Blanc, Asia-Pacific director for boatbuilder Jeanneau, which is targeting China’s upper middle classes, with boats from 5m to 25m, starting from 1.5 million yuan (US$240,000).

“In China we’re starting with big boats and the market is going to expand to smaller sizes,” he said. “In Europe it is the other way round, people start with small boats and as they gain more experience and money, they buy bigger and bigger ones.”

Growth has been rapid, Blanc said, but as well as the import taxes, another major obstacle is a near total absence of public marinas, so that almost all the infrastructure is run by elite private yacht clubs, with memberships costing between 700,000 yuan and 1 million yuan.

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