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by Asia Yacht Press 10 May 11:44 BST 26-29 April 2023
Singapore Yachting Festival 2023 © Guy Nowell

After a three-year hiatus (2020, 2021, 2022) which was not the fault of anybody in the leisure boating industry, the announcement of a Singapore marine show was welcomed with something close to elation across the region. Rebadged to avoid offending any previous iteration of such an event, the Singapore Yachting Festival and associated SEA Yachting Conference took place at ONE° 15 Marina among the immaculately manicured environs of Sentosa, and neither event disappointed.

For 2023, Wade Pearce of SG Marine Guide reprised his previous experience of working with yacht shows, gathered industry stakeholders, and made the calls. “We were amazed at the response,” he reported after initial enquiries. Never mind that the show was always going to be smaller than previous affairs at ONE° 15; only six weeks away from launch, Pearce promised that the event would be “a little more ad hoc, and a little more relaxed.” Within a fortnight all the available water space was reserved, and so were the floating booths moments after that.” Up went the ‘FULL’ signs.

Now it was time to pay attention to the Conference. Everyone loves a conference, especially for the opportunity to network, meet, greet, and re-meet all the people you haven’t seen since 2019. On the Tuesday night someone asked the question, “do we really need a conference, or is this just an excuse for all the marine industry professionals in the region to get together for a drink?” Do not undervalue the value of social networking.

On Wednesday morning Darren Vaux, President of the International Council of Marine Industry Associations (ICOMIA) and keynote speaker, outlined the future of the leisure marine industry. “Boating enriches people’s lives,” he said. “It is researched and proven that simply being in, or around, water changes your perception, promotes calm, reduces stress, and promotes an overall sense of well-being. We understand that, but we have to change people’s perspective on our industry, and promote the fact that it is intrinsically good for people to get in, on, or around water.”

“We as industry professionals, need to be the evangelists for this fantastic lifestyle, in which proximity to water causes the stress hormone, cortisol, to reduce, and be replaced by calming serotonin.”

“We need Governments to understand that we are a significant industry all around the world, contributing over USD300bn to the global economy. We are a significant tourism generator, and we should be using education rather than regulation to be proactive in developing the industry without having too many regulatory hurdles to cross. We need to recognise that we have a voice, and we need to express that voice. And alongside that we must have a clear industry vision of what our industry needs to be. “

“Core to our success will be that we are a reliable and honest partner with government,” Vaux said, “delivering high quality products and services, and recognising that delivery of the boating experience will change, with clubs, charter, shared boat ownership and even autonomous boats on the horizon for the future. It’s not just ‘buy a boat and away you go.’”

Recognising that some sectors of the leisure marine industry lack trained and qualified staff, Vaux noted that “we need to make boating an aspirational industry that young people want to be a part of.”

“We must have our facts correct to support our case to governments. ICOMIA has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars with international consultants Ricardo to produce a comprehensive study, the results of which will be available later this year.”

Vaux was upbeat about the future market potential of boating in Asia. “Leisure boating boomed during the Covid pandemic. New customers turned to boating because they were unable to travel, and because it provided ready-made units of social distancing. But that boom is waning, and our challenge is to find new markets. Asia itself is high on the list with its fabulous destinations and growing middle class incomes. The principal threat to industry growth in Asia as in other parts of the world, is government regulation. Our core mission at ICOMIA is to support industry in overcoming those threats and ensuring that the industry continues to thrive and grow in new markets.”

Proceedings of the conference included in-depth presentations on Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, addressing current governmental policy and immigration procedures for cruising, upgrades to marina and shipyard facilities, and discussion of best practices when cruising. It was readily apparent that while the ‘local’ population of superyachts in Southeast Asia is not large, the cruising potential for superyachts and superyacht charter is huge, and equally importantly the support and service facilities and the requisite skills to deliver them are world class.

After lunch four panels convened to discuss superyachts, charter, yacht management, and technology, with questions and input from the 155 attendees. Yacht management engaged by Family Offices is becoming more and more of a requirement, and the Asian financial capitals (Singapore, Hong Kong) are well placed to take on more professional services in order to maintain their asset at low-risk value.

In closing, Darren Vaux observed that “you (the SEA region) have the destinations, the facilities, the people and the support services. All you need to do now is marketing.” That’s where the various country associations and the Asia Pacific Superyacht Association come in, with a visible presence at superyacht gatherings such as the Monaco Yacht Show and the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, ready to impart information. Yes, in Asia we do have marinas and cheeseburgers and no, we do not have lots of pirates.

Suzy Rayment, executive director of APSA, told Asia Yacht Press that “after three years of little or no connections, we have been very keen to support both the SEA Yachting Conference and the Singapore Yachting Festival,” and proved the point with a well-attended and splashy party on eve of the SYF opening.

The Singapore Yachting Festival kicked off on Thursday 27th with an enthusiastic introduction from organiser Wade Pearce (SG Marine Guide), some well-chosen words from Arthur Tay (Chairman of ONE° 15 Marina), a traditional lion dance, and – naturally – all the boats in the marina sounding their horns. “The mere fact that we are here at all,” said Pearce, “is testament to the strength of the Asian boating community, and a tribute to the growing boating culture in our part of the world.”

The principal difference between the 2023 SYF and previous iterations under similar names was size, but there were still more than 70 brands and exhibitors, including all the big names, from A for Azimut to S for Sanlorenzo. Simpson Marine brought along an exceptional line-up of yachts, and so did Hong Seh Yachting. Edward Tan, Hong Seh Yachting’s Executive Director, said that “after a three-year hiatus we are delighted to be a part of an event that is a pivotal platform to show off to the public the latest models and introduce them to the boating lifestyle.” SEABOB was a new name at the Festival, having recently opened an Asia-Pac regional office. “We have collected more than 60 strong leads,” said Managing Director Claus Gruner, “and this event has laid a solid foundation for the expansion of our business in Asia-Pac. We are very happy to have been here.”

At the end of four days, SYF had counted 9,200 visitors down on the docks, and ‘business’ was still going on long after official closing each day. For those who needed respite from the Singapore chaleur, the Captain’s Lounge (sponsored by Sevenstar Yacht Transport, Fema Marine, Catalano Shipping Singapore, Marinetek and ONE°15) provided some welcome air conditioning and a great spot for VIP meetings.

So, applause all round! Wade Pearce for throwing together a boat show in about six weeks – no mean feat – ably assisted by APSA’s Suzy Rayment on the Conference front. Arthur Tay, ONE°15 and SUTL made it possible, and the exhibitors showed up in almost unexpected numbers. Everyone who came left with a good feeling, and from what we hear, everyone is looking forward to another great show in 2024: we suspect there will be early bookings. For the rest of it, just “rinse and repeat”.

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