French and Italian boatmakers, dominant in the high-end yacht business, were courting private buyers keen to have their very own sailing vessel at the recent Shanghai Boat Show .
It doesn’t even matter if prospective customers know how to sail. Local yacht purchases are often very aspirational, says Rick Pointon, director of the Beijing Sailing Center. Many of his new students buy boats before signing up for class, he says .
Francois Rodrigues, general manager of French yacht maker Beneteau China, says his company sells an equal number of sail and motor driven crafts in China. He notes there’s a preference for easier-to-handle Catamaran-type boats among Chinese buyers, where there’s little knowledge of recreational sailing .
Neither is price a barrier to getting your own yacht, says Rodrigues. The company’s 42-foot Monte Carlo costs almost EUR400,000. Depending on brand and fittings, the firm’s 100-foot boats can cost up to EUR5 million each. "We sell to very rich Chinese people. That kind of money is often like pocket money to them," says Rodrigues. Yet he is still worried that China’s 40 percent tax on imported boats will be a barrier to sales in the long term. Governments in the EU charge an average 20 percent by comparison .
Substantial costs aside, sales of yachts are rising in China. Though a leading commercial shipbuilder, China hasn’t had a recreational sailing scene until now. Yachting, a sport that has its origins in British and Dutch royalty, is clearly being embraced by regional governors who see image-enhancement in having a marina full of sailboats carrying wealthy, boat-shoed socialites. Chances are, if a Chinese city is on the coast, it’s got a blueprint for a marina and plans for a yacht race .
Beneteau recently sold the Qingdao municipal government a dozen 40-foot sailing yachts to be raced this August in the city’s inaugural Mayor’s Cup sailing competition. As part of its deal in supplying the city with yachts, it will provide technical advice to the Qingdao government. The company also sees the races as a great marketing opportunity .
New yacht owners will, of course, need a place to park their boats. Robin Wyatt, senior broker at Simpson Marine, a yacht dealer with offices in China, says that while Hong Kong (where berths are in short supply) boasts a far most established yachting scene, the mainland is catching up. He sees Hainan, Shenzhen and Xiamen as China’s premier emerging sailing spots .
A new marina under construction in Dalian and the huge Deep Blue marina in Xiamen indicates facilities for mainland sailors are improving rapidly, agrees Rodrigues. The new marinas will service a growing list of annual regional races: The China Cup International Regatta in Shenzhen and the Round Hainan Race are already established annual events .
Real estate developers are also cashing in, using marinas to sell houses in posh gated communities. Residents of the sprawling new Nine Dragons gated community south of Shanghai will enjoy access to a marina as a benefit to their Western-style mansions. Other property developers have packaged life in an exclusive community with elite pleasure of sailing on the sea. The Visun Royal Yacht Club in Sanya – part of a Hainan real estate project – will compete for members with the Shenzhen Vanke Longcheer Yacht Club, built by leading Chinese homebuilder Vanke .
As enthusiasm for the exclusive sport increases and evolves into profits, foreign firms are glad to be at the helm of a burgeoning sector which can grow in so many directions, all of them expensive. "We must first build the market," says Beneteau’s Rodrigues .
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