DUBAI // With its sleek hull, rooftop Jacuzzi and state-of-the-art navigation system, Tradition may seem a snip to anyone with Dh45 million to spare. But even before the shrink wrap came off the elegant 30-metre superyacht, its days as the pride of Dubai's Festival Marina were numbered. For Tradition will be dwarfed by the new breed of luxury yacht appearing on the horizon. With technology providing increasingly better navigation, gadgets and comfort, it is common for owners to replace their boats every three years as they become outdated.
"Our customers are pushing for ever bigger yachts," says Erwin Bamps, executive manager of Gulf Craft, an Ajman-based firm that has a two-year waiting list for its luxury boats. "Our sales have at least tripled in the past three years and extras like helicopters, pools and Jacuzzis are no longer considered extravagant. "The market is moving very fast and the only thing it is limited by is the ability to park them."
Yachting magazine says nearly a third of the world's top 100 yachts are owned by GCC nationals while six of the world's 10 biggest yachts have Arab owners. "The boating industry is exploding here in the UAE," said Matthew Bate, director of operations at Island Global Yachting (IGY), the company responsible for marinas in Festival City and the Palm Jumeirah. "The demand on our berths is huge and we cannot fit any more in."
Long waiting lists coupled with the lack of space for larger vessels have meant IGY is rolling out plans for more than 20,000 berths within five years in Dubai alone. Abu Dhabi is not far behind, with plans to create marinas capable of taking gigayachts within the next two years. "We cannot build them quick enough," says Michael Horrigan, chief executive of IGY's Middle Eastern operations. "The yachts that will be berthed there will be among the most expensive in the world. Megayachts, more than 50 metres long, and gigayachts, more than 100 metres, are a dynamic market that has not diminished despite the current economic crisis.
"The people in that bracket have been somewhat impacted but it is not like they have been driven into poverty. Their wealth is still intact." As yachts become ever more lavish, so too do the onshore facilities. Festival Marina, which already has three helipads, is to be transformed by 2010 with designer stores, upmarket restaurants and a clubhouse with suites for "VVIP" clients. Laurent Perignon, of Camper and Nicholson International, which compiles a yachting index on 80ft-plus vessels, says: "Demand is still bigger than supply.
"Give it another five years and the heart of the market will be 120-165ft yachts." Back on board the Tradition, Ivan Slavica, of the Art Marine boat maintenance firm, points to his neighbours. "That one bought an Azimut but wanted three cabins instead of four so changed the entire interior. And that one ripped out two cabins to put in a dance floor with a top-end sound system. "Customers change their minds all the time - but then, you wouldn't ask Bill Gates why he wants to change things."