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Covid caused a ‘massive spike’ in yacht sales — now some of those boats are back on the market

Some pandemic-era yacht owners are headed back for dry land.

The pandemic spurred a “massive spike” in yacht sales, said Richard Allen, chief operating officer of the Hong Kong-based yachting company Simpson Marine.

“We’ve seen a lot of those people, that had their boats for two years, sort of now wanting to travel,” he told CNBC. “In the last probably few months, talking with other people in the industry, we’ve seen an increase in brokerage activity of … boats being sold.”

That was expected, said Paolo Casani, CEO of the Monaco-based yachting company Camper & Nicholsons.

“We sold, as an industry worldwide, more than the double the yachts [in 2021] than 2019,” he told CNBC. When this happens, “they go to the market starting from a couple of years later.”

Prices in the pre-owned market

Enthusiasm for yachting remains high, even if sales have fallen since 2021, said Casani.

“The industry is going back to 2019,” he said. “And we have to distinguish between brokerage and new builds, because the demand for new builds is still quite high.”

With more yachts hitting the brokerage market, prices are down, albeit slightly, from pandemic-era highs, he said.

Demand for yachts 'still quite high' says Camper & Nicholsons CEO

“Prices are still quite high,” he said. “There is still a gap between the demand and the offer … but we do believe that there will be still a reduction in the course of 2024.”

Asia yacht growth ‘less than expected’

Some yachts buyers in Asia aren’t selling, though, said Allen — in fact, they’re trading up for larger vessels.

“Some have actually really enjoyed the boating lifestyle, and are already upgrading … to bigger boats,” he said.

Asia — a continent of rising wealth and numerous island nations, many bathed in year-round warmth — has long been viewed as the next frontier for global yacht growth.

Casani and Allen, who spoke to CNBC on April 26 while attending the second annual Singapore Yachting Festival, agreed that the continent’s yachting market is growing.

But, Casani said, the pace is “less than expected” for many reasons, including culture, lifestyle and lack of infrastructure.

Asia is beautiful and warm, but here's what's its yachting industry back

“But we still believe that Asia has a very high potential,” he said.

Allen said the disparate and onerous “rules and regulations” in the region are thwarting progress.

“We need to make it easier for boats to move around between the region,” he said. “In one country you might be able to drive a certain size boat, but then another you can’t. So those sort of things — the red tape, shall we say.”

Complex visa requirements for foreign boat crews are problematic, as are high import taxes, which can reach 40% in some markets, he said.

“We need to do a lot of lobbying with governments to make it easier to import boats,” said Allen. “There’s a lot of lobbying groups like ICOMIA … that are working much more collaboratively with the different dealers to have a voice to government.”

The International Council of Marine Industry Associations, or ICOMIA for short, hosted a two-day conference ahead of the Singapore Yachting Festival to address issues the industry faces, from sustainable propulsion to the lack of marina infrastructure in high-potential countries, such as Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam.   

Beyond buying and charters

Simpson Marine estimates the global marine leisure market will reach an estimated $46.5 billion in 2027 — which it says will trickle down to the local economy through job creation and tourism revenue.

“The yachting industry employs thousands and thousands of people building boats, supporting boats, all the component servicing,” said Allen. “This is a … great industry for countries to embrace.”

Newer forms of ownership make yachting less expensive, which is opening the industry to more people. One model that is especially popular in Australia is fractional, or syndicated, ownership, where owners buy a share of a yacht, he said.

Others are avoiding ownership altogether, opting for flexible subscription models, which are now the norm for many forms of entertainment, from music to television.

“We’ve seen massive growth in boat clubs,” said Allen. “It’s a bit like joining a gym or a golf club. You pay a monthly membership, and you get the use of a boat so many days a week. And that’s very popular for people that don’t really want all the hassle of owning a yacht.”

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