Hong Kong yacht show pushes idea of boats as affordable luxury amid top-end downturn

More than 12,000 visitors expected at four-day show on Hong Kong’s Gold Coast, where 75 vessels will be on display, from HK$100,000 models to super yachts

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 April, 2016, 2:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 April, 2016, 2:00pm

The Hong Kong Gold Coast Boat Show returns for its 16th edition at the end of this month, with organisers still bullish and seeing growth in yachting and sailing despite slowing economic growth in Hong Kong and the wider region.

This year’s show, which runs from April 29 to May 2, will present more than HK$1 billion worth of seaworthy vessels and equipment. Upwards of 12,000 visitors are expected to view craft ranging from the smallest sailing boats to the ostentatious super yachts that can easily cost upwards of H$50 million.

“[We] aim to offer both local and overseas boat lovers a variety of options for every kind of budget,” says Roger Blythe, general manager of Gold Coast Yacht and Country Club, organisers of the event.

With licence fees, mooring fees, a lack of berthing spaces, maintenance costs and other associated expenditure, boating can seem an expensive pastime for all but the most committed. However, in the past few years, Blythe and the organisers have heavily pushed the idea of making boating in Hong Kong what they call an “affordable luxury”, not only by including more boats at the lower end, with prices as low as HK$100,000, but also showcasing the idea of a boating lifestyle.

Speaking to the Post before last year’s show, Blythe said the public perception was that boating was solely for the elite, but suggested that “buying a boat is much like buying a car” and that “what you can afford determines the type of car you will buy, or in this case a boat”.

The Chinese government crackdown on corruption, as well as a cultural shift away from gaudy and excessive shows of wealth on the part of China’s super rich, have dented boat sales at the top end. At the China International Boat Show in Zhuhai, Guangdong, in October 2015, a number of manufacturers told the Post that the anti-graft drive had hit sales of luxury yachts. Yet manufacturers of small and medium-sized vessels reported higher sales, evidence that attempts to broaden the base for sailing were beginning to bear fruit.

Hong Kong has a much deeper and longer tradition of boating than China, so the Hong Kong Gold Coast Boat Show, one of the biggest and longest running boat shows in Asia, has been more successful in attracting both professional and amateur sailors, as well as hundreds of Hongkongers looking for a day out.

The show’s main attractions are its 60 exhibitors, with their 75 yachts on show. These include the 64ft Project 31, a restoration of the first boat built by British firm Princess Yachts International which is exclusive to the show. Princess will also be showing the much more modern 72ft Princess S72, which has a top speed of 40 knots, a hydraulic bathing platform and three en-suite cabins. Another highlight is the 85ft Arcadia 85, which has room enough for eight guests but really shines with its eco-credentials, including 431 sq ft of solar panels.

With the casual visitor in mind, organisers have set up avenues of food and drink stalls as well as a dedicated entertainment zone for children. Moreover, to deepen the show’s community links, the organisers will present the Cardboard Boat Charity Regatta, challenging teams from Hong Kong corporations, organisations and those working in education to build a makeshift and seaworthy skiff on site, with funds raised going to the Children’s Cancer Foundation.

The show will open at a time when Hong Kong sales of watches, jewellery and other high-value, big-ticket items are on the slide, but the organisers hope that by continuing to bang the drum for boating as an affordable leisure pursuit rather than something solely associated with status, they can sail out of the current storm to calmer waters.