Startling statistic of the week: the average time a Hong Kong- moored luxury yacht spends at sea is 32 hours a year. The rest of the time all those Sunseekers, Princesses and Azimut-Benettis sit idle, ignored by their wealthy owners.
Meanwhile, lots of people would love to be sailing out and about, but until now there’s been a very limited choice of yachts to charter. Enter French entrepreneur Eric Noyel. He spotted a gap in the Hong Kong market for luxury yacht charter when he failed to find one for a South American president. “OK, junks are nice, but not what you want for a president,” says the businessman who once had the distinction of being China’s biggest manufacturer of toilet brushes. So after selling his Asian-based household plastics business, he turned his attention to “happy assets”, in his case, luxury yachts, and founded Riviera Orientale Yachting Society. “I thought it’s time to start doing something I really like.”
He set about building a charter fleet. His goal: to offer a choice of boat sizes, with crew and full onboard services, just like those available in the Mediterranean. Not only would this fill a gap for clients of top hotels such as Mandarin Oriental and the Four Seasons and the concierge services like Quintessentially, but for corporate and private clients. So far, the 11 yachts he has available are in the 45 to 80 foot range, with one over 80 feet. I don’t want to go faster than the music,” he says. “I’ll grow as fast as the market.” But people do want big boats, 70 foot and bigger, he observes.
And the wealthy are prepared to pay, from HK$60,000 to HK$110,000 a day, for corporate junkets, family outings or private parties and weddings. Just as well, with these boats costing HK$600, 000 – 800,000 per month to run.
“Below HK$25,000 a day is junk business, that’s a different market,” he explains. The exclusive yacht world has the same built-in snobbery as expensive cars. Europe, it seems, is way ahead of Asia.
The top-selling brands out here are Sunseeker, Princess and Azimut –Benetti. But these are mainly "good value" production boats, a category well below that of custom-made megayachts such as Heesen and Fedships, owned by the world superrich and famous. In the production boat category, it’s much the same as in cars: the Italians have it. You need a Ferretti, a Riva or Pershing to have serious floating cache in Europe. Ferretti ranks top in Italy, producing Ferretti flybridge motor yachts, Pershing open cruisers and Riva flybridge, or open motor yachts.
Italian designers rule
It’s like Ferrari versus BMW. “The Italians simply make much more stylish boats,” says Noyel. Sunseeker, just bought by Chinese owners, and LVMH-owned Princess are both British-based. A 100 foot Riva would set you back HK$120m, while a similar -sized Sunseeker only has an HK$80m price tag. For yachts above 30 metres, the general rule of thumbs is a million dollars per foot. Actually, he says, Hong Kong buyers don’t overspend on boats, no matter how wealthy they are. “They buy value.” Nor surprising if they only plan to use them for 32 hours a year.
He describes the yachts as ranging from suitable for “heads of state and VVIPs” with security and “white glove food and beverage solutions” to 40-70 footers, suitable for “island hopping and intimate parties. His clientele is local and international, but not yet Mainland Chinese.
“Boat enjoyment hasn’t really caught on in China yet, it’s all about owning more than enjoying” Noyel observes. Yacht outings are popular with bankers- they like to relax, chat and smoke cigars – and stressed executives - they love to hop aboard and leave their cares onshore. True to his French roots, Noyel’s going for the romantic market, with sunset and twilight dinner cruises and the added carrot of over-nighting and waking up on board next morning, an option previously unavailable in Hong Kong.