Hong Kong boat show hopes to attract affluent middle class with affordable yachts

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 April, 2015, 6:21am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 April, 2015, 4:38pm

The 15th annual Hong Kong Gold Coast Boat Show, the largest show of its kind in the region, promises to exhibit more than HK$1 billion worth of boats and gear as well as the very best of the boating lifestyle when it runs from May 1 to 3.

Despite the exorbitant price tags and the ostentatious displays of wealth, the organisers behind this year's show are pushing the theme of "affordable luxury", reflecting both the tougher economic climate as well as the democratisation of yachting for a growing affluent middle class in Hong Kong and the mainland.

Robert Blythe, general manager of the Gold Coast Yacht and Country Club, is keen to change wider public perceptions of yachts and yachting culture as a pursuit exclusively of the social and moneyed elite.

"Most people look at yachting as a sport or relaxation for only the elite, perhaps a misconceived concept, but buying a boat is much like buying a car," says Blythe, before adding: "What you can afford determines the type of car you will buy, or, in this case, a boat; for example, you can pick up boats for less than HK$100,000. That essentially is affordable luxury."

This year's show will focus on the wide variety of boats available from the HK$100,000 "affordable" weekend cruisers that Blythe alluded to the fully customised, made in Europe mega yachts that start at HK$50 million and can reach multiples of that figure.

Boat shows are a relatively new to Asia, reflecting yachting as a leisure pursuit with mainly Western roots.

However, there are large boat shows in the region: one in Phuket, Thailand, which attracts 5,000 visitors, and the Singapore Yacht Show, which takes place in April and features most of the big manufacturers.

The Gold Coast show features more than 60 exhibitors and 70 yachts. Blythe expects up to 12,000 visitors, but with this year's show coinciding with the Labour Day weekend, visitor numbers may well be higher. This year the organisers have included more social events such as an opening day party, exhibitors' barbecue, an Asian Boating Awards Dinner and a charity regatta to raise money for the Children's Cancer Foundation.

The boat show's role in proselytising boating culture, at least in Hong Kong, is helped by the city's natural geography, something that people often forget. "Hong Kong has more than 280 islands and 800km of natural coastline," says Blythe.

The campaign to promote boating seems to be working; predictably, it is growing faster on the mainland than it is in Hong Kong, which has a longer tradition of yachting and more established clubs. Blythe attributes this growth to the increased levels of disposable income in Hong Kong and the mainland.

The growing middle class in China is looking to more genteel leisure pursuits such as golf and equestrian sports for reasons of status and enjoyment, and boating falls within that quite neatly.

However, Blythe cautions that the growth of boating in Hong Kong could be slowed by its lack of berthing spaces.

So what can visitors at the boat show expect? Attention will inevitably be on super yachts such as the Monte Carlo Yachts MCY 86, a 26.3-metre boat made in Italy with a top speed of 24 knots and a price of HK$51.85 million before customisation. Also on show is the Italian, made-to-measure, 32-metre Sanlorenzo SL106 Special Edition, the epitome of luxury that can reach a top speed of 29 knots. These yachts will prove a magnet for enthusiasts and photo seekers but the genuinely interested Asian buyer will have plenty to see and will be surprised at how much is on offer that is tailored to the Asian market and local climates.

Most people look at yachting as a sport or relaxation for only the elite, but buying a boat is much like buying a car
Robert Blythe, general manager, Gold Coast Yacht and Country Club

"Boats built specifically for the Asian market are, in some ways quite unique. The actual boat design generally remains the same, although some certain factors are taken into consideration," says Blythe listing features such as air-conditioned internal spaces.

"Asian owners tend to spend more time inside rather than outside, internal space privacy - separation between owners and crew, build specifications taking into account the harsher environment in Asia," he says.

Blythe and the show's organisers are looking further ahead to build on the momentum and enthusiasm for boating in the region, with plans already in place for the next show to include more "international input".