Headquartered in Hong Kong, Asia Marine – a dealership, brokerage and chartering operation – is one of the fastest-growing companies in the regional yachting world, having opened new offices in Thailand and Singapore after a record-breaking 2021. Asia Marine has taken advantage of unique market conditions on all three fronts, and its staff expects growth to continue even when things return to pre-pandemic normality.
Asia-Pacific Boating spoke to Asia Marine department heads based in Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore about how the Asian yachting industry is shaping up in these different locations, as well as an inside look at the sometimes-forgotten effort that goes into running a successful dealership, brokerage and charter company.
One of the most important parts of any great dealership or brokerage is the aftersales service, as much of the real work doesn’t begin until after the sale. This is especially true in cities like Hong Kong, where clients are known for being particularly discerning, and often rent out their boats for charter.
“I notice that in Hong Kong, clients never go for the standard option. They want every optional extra, and I mean they tick everything,” says Asia Marine aftersales manager Philip Benson. “There’s a big difference when you get a 60ft [18.3m] boat with standard specs and a 60-footer with all the extra features crammed into the thing. That’s when it gets fun.”
Benson has been in the boating industry since 1989, when he worked as an apprentice marine engineer in the UK, and has worked in aftersales since he moved to Asia a decade ago. He said his engineering background helps with his current role, which often boils down to generally “looking after the boat”.
“I’ve been looking after boats for a very long time, from small speedboats up to superyachts,” he says. “From a client perspective, it doesn’t matter how big their boat is; they’re still a client and get treated equally. But obviously, the bigger the boat, the more technical we get and the more equipment there is. It gets much harder and more complicated to maintain those bigger boats. But as I said earlier, I enjoy those challenges.”
Benson says the aftersales process is a far more lengthy and rigorous process than most people realise, as he and his team essentially work as support staff for sales, service roles for clients, and in Benson’s case, offering technical support to clients learning how to use their yachts for the first time.
Benson has even gone so far as to fly yacht engines on cargo planes to get them onto superyachts in time for a client’s expedition
“As soon as the boat is sold, I get heavily involved,” he explains. “From the moment the boat arrives in Hong Kong, we unload it, do all the checks and commissioning, and from there, it’s my job to take care of the client right through the boat’s warranty period and further on.
Benson is also the only link between the client and factories – which are located all over the world. “I am dealing with those factories directly,” he continues. “Clients are often very demanding because they’ve just bought a very expensive toy and want everything to be perfect. But not everyone has read the manuals or knows what to do. So I am always available on Whatsapp. It’s my job to be a comfort to them – 24 hours a day sometimes.”
Benson said he has even gone so far as to fly yacht engines on cargo planes to get them onto superyachts in time for a client’s expedition. “But that’s all part of the job. I love a good challenge.”
Raphael Sachs, commercial director in Thailand, had some fascinating insights on the past two years, which he says showed an “unusually strong demand for new and used boats in the area.”
Sachs has recently been selling a lot of boats from boat builders like Galeon and Nimbus. And now, with Covid-19 restrictions easing in Thailand, he expects the charter industry to pick up.
“The outlook seems bright with the reopening of travel in Thailand,” says Sachs, who was born in Paris and raised on the French Riviera. “The last couple of years have been, of course, quite challenging for charter in Thailand. However, the return of the tourists and the renewal of our fleet, with even the first-ever Thai superyacht charter license awarded to one of the boats we manage, give us great hopes for the high season to come. The outlook for [pre-owned yacht] brokerage is also bright, boosted by the scarcity of new deliveries, and for Asia Marine, which is supported by our regional inventory, allowing local buyers to find the boat of their dreams carefully listed by our colleagues in neighbouring countries.”
Sachs, who has been working in Asia for more than 20 years, has also noticed water toys becoming increasingly popular among yacht owners in tropical locations like Phuket.
“The return of the tourists and the renewal of our fleet, with even the first-ever Thai superyacht charter license awarded to one of the boats we manage, give us great hopes” – Raphael Sachs, commercial director, Thailand
“Toys are becoming increasingly important as boating expectations expand beyond sporty sailing or sipping champagne on a comfortable flybridge,” he says. “Depending on the size of the boats, you will find more and more stand-up paddle boards, canoes, underwater scooters, e-foils, and on bigger yachts it’s becoming more common to see wakesurf boats on board.”
Harvey Brewin – regional brokerage head in Singapore, who previously worked in Hong Kong, had some interesting insights in comparing the two markets.
“Day-to-day working in Singapore is very similar to Hong Kong,” says Brewin. “I would say the main differences in the markets come from the geography of both places. Hong Kong is a larger place with more marinas and coastline to explore within its waters. There are plenty of islands to explore locally, but Singapore also offers some phenomenal cruising grounds with Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand all a comfortable distance away.
“And [speaking] as someone from the UK, the main difference between both cities is the heat.”
Brewin says there has been a massive transformation in the brokerage industry in Asia – in part because supply-chain issues in factories and shipyards combined with skyrocketing demand have made the process of buying and owning a yacht an even more difficult process than before, which means the prestige of owning a yacht has also risen.
“In the past, when selling production boats, you were selling physical stock that clients could go onboard,” he says. “Now you are selling build slots that will be completed 18 months in the future. The superyacht order books are also fuller than ever, with some yards now selling yachts that will be completed in 2025.”
“The superyacht order books are also fuller than they have ever been with some yards now selling yachts that will be completed in 2025” – Harvey Brewin, head of Asia Marine regional brokerage, Singapore
Brewin says this means that demand remains strong for new yachts and that, in turn, has increased the demand for good quality brokerage vessels that are available immediately.
“We are seeing consistently strong prices achieved for well-marketed brokerage yachts, and that is a trend I think will continue for some time.”