Yachts­man steers for true East

Vin­cenzo Po­e­rio, helms­man for Benetti luxury yachts, brings a Mediter­ranean pas­sion to his mis­sion of telling the world’s wealthy about the good life. So­phie He re­ports in Capri, Italy.

China Daily (Canada) - - HONG KONG -

Our strat­egy in China is to stay there ... to let our po­ten­tial clients know our brand ... let them know that this (yacht­ing) is a way of en­joy­ing life.”

Benetti, an Ital­ian luxury ship­yard dat­ing back nearly one­and-a-half cen­turies, is wait­ing pa­tiently upon the Chi­nese mar­ket, con­fi­dent that more rich Chi­nese will be­come its clients.

Benetti is part of the Az­imut/Benetti Group, the world’s largest pri­vate con­sor­tium in the yacht­ing sec­tor.

“Benetti is in a very niche mar­ket, we have to look through­out the world, as our po­ten­tial cus­tomers are the rich­est, there are not too many of them and the mar­ket is very lim­ited,” CEO Vin­cenzo Po­e­rio told China Daily in Capri, Italy, where the oper­a­tors of the 143-year-old ship­yard held a yacht­ing gala on May 21 and 22.

Benetti builds semi-cus­tom and cus­tom yachts. Semi-cus­tom yachts are avail­able in sev­eral pre-de­signed mod­els and range from 29 me­ters to 42 me­ters in size, with prices start­ing at 8.5 mil­lion euro ($9.46 mil­lion).

The cus­tom-built yachts start at 50 me­ters and clients may design their own mod­els, with prices start­ing at 30 mil­lion euro, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany.

Po­e­rio pointed out that Western coun­tries used to ac­count for about 60 to 65 per­cent of the global rich, but the past 10 years have seen an ex­po­nen­tial rise in the num­ber of bil­lion­aires in China, as well as in other Asian coun­tries, and this makes China more at­trac­tive to the com­pany.

He said that a third of Benetti’s clients are cur­rently from the US, while an­other third comes from Europe, in­clud­ing Rus­sia. “In th­ese ar­eas where there are fam­i­lies that have been rich for cen­turies, they can af­ford a yacht.”

The Mid­dle East and Asia ac­count for the rest of Benetti’s clients. The Mid­dle East is very sta­ble mar­ket, said Po­e­rio, given its rich fam­i­lies, which make up 10 or 12 per­cent of the com­pany’s to­tal cus­tomer base.

“Right now we are in­vest­ing in the East. We are con­vinced that after so many years, the rich in the East have started learn­ing about how to change their way of en­joy­ment, and if they un­der­stand what it (yacht­ing) is and they like it, they will buy it.”

Po­e­rio pointed out that there are a lot of rich people in China to­day, and they earned those riches by work­ing very hard, so they prob­a­bly al­ready have a beau­ti­ful house, a beau­ti­ful car, and so on. But he be­lieves the last mas­ter­piece to own is a yacht, as it is the most ex­pen­sive toy that any­one can buy.

“Our strat­egy in China is to stay there, and to show that we ex­ist, to let our po­ten­tial clients know our brand. It is im­por­tant to in­vest and to let them know that this is a way of en­joy­ing life,” he said.

Po­e­rio said he is very happy to see that the younger gen­er­a­tion in China is chang­ing, they like swim­ming and they like out­door ac­tiv­i­ties, while the older gen­er­a­tion did not even like sun­bathing.

Po­e­rio also men­tioned that Western and Chi­nese buy­ers usu­ally pur­chase yachts for very dif­fer­ent pur­poses. “In the West, people use their yachts for en­joy­ment. If they own a boat, they will take their fam­ily and visit beau­ti­ful places and they will go swim­ming and re­lax.”

But in China, and maybe even else­where in Asia, people use yachts for busi­ness. They use them for busi­ness tours, in­vite their busi­ness part­ners on board, drink wine, eat great food, and talk busi­ness and do busi­ness to­gether.

“Now we see more and more Chi­nese just us­ing their boat for en­joy­ment like Western­ers. One of our cus­tomers from Hong Kong SAR is al­ways send­ing me pic­tures of him and his fam­ily tak­ing the yacht all over the world for div­ing,” he said.

Con­sid­er­ing the wealth and pop­u­la­tion of China, this is just the be­gin­ning, Po­e­rio said.

Nizar Tagi, gen­eral man­ager of Benetti Asia Lim­ited, cov­er­ing mar­kets from In­dia to New Zealand, said the Chi­nese main­land and Hong Kong mar­kets are the most im­por­tant ones.

Benetti has sold 14 yachts in the last five years in Asia, mostly to Chi­nese main­land and Hong Kong buy­ers.

“The Chi­nese mar­ket, as we see it, is the one with the most po­ten­tial, de­spite the slower eco­nomic growth. The com­pany is still very op­ti­mistic about it, as the Chi­nese eco­nomic model is chang­ing from be­ing pro­duc­tion-driven to con­sump­tion-driven, and the gov­ern­ment is en­cour­ag­ing people to spend more,” Tagi noted.

Tagi ad­mit­ted be­ing very en­cour­aged to learn that the num­ber of bil­lion­aires on the Chi­nese main­land and Hong Kong has sur­passed the US for the first time, as the wealth fac­tor is very im­por­tant to the com­pany.

Benetti will al­lo­cate more re­sources to pro­mote its brand to Chi­nese cus­tomers, said Tagi, adding that he found many cus­tomers in China had ex­ten­sive knowl­edge about yachts, as they al­ready owned smaller ones.

Tagi pointed out that in Hong Kong the big prob­lem for Benetti’s busi­ness is the short­age of moor­ing space. “It is a chronic prob­lem, we need to solve it. Last week three Hong Kong cus­tomers came to one of our ship­yards in Viareg­gio, Italy, but we couldn’t of­fer them any­thing more than 100 feet (yachts), be­cause there is no (moor­ing) space in Hong Kong for them.”

Tagi said Benetti has taken the ini­tia­tive to speak to the Hong Kong gov­ern­ment in or­der to dis­cuss pos­si­ble ways to solve this prob­lem, but he ex­pects find­ing the best so­lu­tion will take time.

On the Chi­nese main­land, the main ob­sta­cle is that if people want to sail their yachts to other lo­ca­tions, they need to get per­mis­sion from the lo­cal gov­ern­ment and that usu­ally takes two weeks, ac­cord­ing to Tagi.

Con­tact the writer at so­phiehe@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

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