Five years from now, if you ask me to look back and say when the yachting industry began to make a serious impression on the psyche of China’s elite, I might say 2010. Or maybe 2011, just to be safe.
More than 250 members of China’s jet set converged recently by private plane and chauffeured BMW on Hainan Island, which hosted the second annual Hainan Rendezvous on the South China Sea. The weekend gave vendors a chance to show China’s highest high rollers some of the world’s finest fineries, from watches to automobiles to, you guessed it, yachts.
It’s an interesting location for the yachting industry to mark a new waypoint. Yes, international-caliber yachts have been built in China for some time now—noteworthy brands with high-quality reputations include Marlow, Kingship, and Cheoy Lee—but the local cruising scene is not nearly as developed as the shipyards. Blame it on the relative lack of marinas, the strict cruising regulations, and the visa requirements that make bringing a foreign crew into the country akin to succeeding in international espionage. And yet, this past weekend saw dealers on Hainan Island’s docks with new Sunseeker and Azimut motoryachts in the 40- to 100-foot size range.
An Azimut 43 Flybridge Yacht was the first yacht sold, but, not to be outdone, Sunseeker’s representative told The Wall Street Journal that he expected to sell six boats once the weekend’s receipts were totaled.
In general, reps spent the weekend offering tours, signing deals, and introducing China’s hobnobbers to the concept of cocktail hour on the aft deck.
And megayacht sundecks have begun to make an impression, too.
The largest motoryacht on display was the 213-foot Benetti Ambrosia, brokered by YPI Group—which just announced a partnership with Olivier Besson to create a new division called YPI Asia. Two offices will serve what the brokerage firm sees as Asia’s most promising regions: in and around Aberdeen, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen, China.
“I have been in China for over six years working with clients who need and use business jets and yachts,” Besson says. “Right now there is a significant and growing demand amongst wealthy Asian people, and in particular Chinese people, to properly enjoy yachting. Over the last few years they have had a glimpse of the benefits owning a superyacht can bring—and they like what they see. A completely new infrastructure is now being constructed throughout China so the country can welcome and accommodate the biggest and best yachts.”
It will be interesting to watch not only how China’s infrastructure develops to please this new yachting set, but also whether the budding cruising class will affect conditions on the South China Sea itself. While YPI Group is already calling the Hainan Island area “the Chinese Riviera,” the South China Sea has long been known as a haven for piracy. Luxury yachts have learned in recent years, while trying to move between the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea by way of eastern Africa, that pirates are just as willing to attack a megayacht as they are to go after a supertanker. (Read "Megayacht Iindustry Concerned About New USCG Piracy Warning")
It’s a noteworthy fact that’s not to be overlooked, but if more yachts are indeed able get to this new Chinese Riviera (which sounds so darn pleasant, doesn’t it?), then China just may become the yachting industry’s newest hotspot by 2015. Or maybe 2016, just to be safe.
Editor’s Note: Kim Kavin is an award-winning writer, editor and photographer who specializes in marine travel. She is the author of seven books including Dream Cruises: The Insider’s Guide to Private Yacht Vacations, and is editor of CharterWave and Boatermouth.