x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Boat builders fill Yas Marina berths for Abu Dhabi Yacht Show

The boat building industry was hit hard by the global financial downturn but after a challenging 2009, early indicators are that the sector is about to enjoy and an upswing.

Good things come in threes: motorboats berthed at Yas Marina ahead of the opening of the Abu Dhabi Yacht Show today.
Good things come in threes: motorboats berthed at Yas Marina ahead of the opening of the Abu Dhabi Yacht Show today.

Yas Marina has not been this full since last November's inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Everywhere you look there are giant motorboats, their silver and white hulls gleaming in the sunlight, while here and there is a fishing boat, its aerials flapping in the wind making a "tut-tut-tut" sound. Smart-looking men and women in shorts and sailing shoes are running around trying to get everything ready in time for today's 2pm opening of the Abu Dhabi Yacht Show. But the big question on everybody's lips is this: will there be any buyers?

"This is what we are going to find out [today]," says Wim Koersvelt, the founder and chief executive of Icon Yachts, a Dutch-based boat builder. "We are expecting at least one good contact, an Abu Dhabi-based gentleman." After what has been a horrible year for yacht builders around the world, there are hopes that there may finally be an improvement. "Sentiment is marginally better now compared to last year," said Nasser Alshaali, the chief executive of Gulf Craft, the Ajman-based company that is one of the major local boat builders. As well as yacht buyers losing their appetite, there was also a rash of distressed sellers, which further depressed the market.

Abu Dhabi's two-day show is already emerging as a leading contender in the region. While Dubai's event may have been established longer, some yachting companies say it caters for too many different groups, not all of whom might be interesting in boating. The Jeddah Yacht Show is also becoming popular, but exhibitors are hoping that the Abu Dhabi event will attract a good mixture of Emiratis, Kuwaitis, Omanis, Saudis and Europeans. All it would take for the show to be a great success is if a few of them could be tempted to buy something.

There is no standard profile of the typical yacht buyer. They range from sheikhs to celebrities, businessmen to politicians. All you need is a good amount of cash. "Everything depends on your wallet," says Erwin Bamps, the chief operating officer of Gulf Craft. It is aiming at the "Bentley" market, especially with its superyachts - any vessel more than 30 metres long - which will sell for about ?30 million (Dh149.2m).

One of the reasons for the slowdown - apparently there have been no orders in the past two years for any yachts more than 65 metres in length - is the lack of financing. That seems to be returning. "Banks used to finance 80 per cent of purchases, but that dried up last year," said Mr Alshaali. "We are seeing the return of bank financing, although the amount they will lend is now closer to 60 per cent of the total price."

Just about every boat in the marina seems to be up for sale, ranging from Emmanuelle, a fibreglass-hulled, Scandinavian-built day boat that looks like it is modelled on a classic 1920s design and costs about ?750,000, to the 65-metre Trident, on sale for about ?97m. The exhibitor profile is a mix of international market leaders and emerging Gulf players. It includes Westport, an American shipyard, Holland's Feadship and other Superyacht Builders Association members such as Amels of The Netherlands, Fincantieri Yachts from Italy, the US's Burger Boat Company and Trinity Yachts, alongside Abu Dhabi marina developer Aldar Properties, the regional ship builders Abu Dhabi MAR Group and Gulf Craft, and the yacht managers and distributors Art Marine.

"The show is an unrivalled forum for Abu Dhabi to present its expanding marine leisure and superyacht credentials to industry leaders, who we hope will partner our development, and an audience of regional high net worth individuals," said Faisal al Sheikh, the events manager at the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority. rwright@thenational.ae