Adventure tourism company DeepFlight Adventures is set to launch a unique travel experience in the Maldives — with trips aboard a specially designed submarine that “flies” underwater. Adam Wright, the company’s CEO, explains how it works
Yes, that’s very much the case. One of the reasons we wanted to develop the secondhand market was to revitalize the market for new yachts. Hong Kong is a very, very mature market and a great many yacht owners want to upgrade or buy the newest model, but obviously they also want to be able to resell their current boat. So we’re present in both markets — we help them get rid of their existing boat and then we sell them a new one. There’s generally a secondhand clientele in Asia; some of our boats leave Hong Kong. It’s the biggest boating center in Asia, with the largest fleet, and this generates interest.
Six months to a year — it’s a very long process. And Hong Kong doesn’t make it easy for us, because moorings
We want to be able to tap into people’s sense of exploration and their inner James Bond, so to speak,” says Wright.
“You’re getting into an underwater airplane — it looks cool, it feels cool and like you’re doing something very adventurous, whereas you’re actually doing something that’s very, very safe.”
To develop the travel business, the company’s tourism arm, DeepFlight Adventures, has partnered with Shanghai-based Rainbowfish Ocean Technology, a leader in deep-sea research technology. Wright says that the Rainbowfish connection was developed in part thanks to his Putonghua language skills. He studied mechanical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, where he made many friends in the Chinese student community and developed a keen interest in the language. Wishing to learn more, he studied Chinese for two years at Yunnan are hard to come by and clients always worry about finding a place to park their boat. At Asia Yachting, we guarantee that our clients will get a mooring — we’re probably the only ones in the market that do this.
When a client buys a boat from us, irrespective of its size, we guarantee them a mooring at Aberdeen Harbour. This is part of an overall customer-care strategy. We don’t just sell the boat;
we aim to provide all the related services — the mooring, crew and Normal University in Kunming.
After returning to the US, he joined DeepFlight to live out his passion for submarines. “You can think of the ocean as the last remaining frontier,” he says. “More people have set foot on the moon than have gone to the deepest part of the ocean.”
A niche business
DeepFlight has two main markets: tourism and the superwealthy, who want submarines as playthings on their luxury yachts. Prices for private two- and three-seater subs are in the range of US$1.5 million to $2 million, and the company has sold seven so far.
Among DeepFlight’s customers is business magnate Richard Branson, who bought a customized three-seat submarine to use off his private Necker Island. “Submarines are a growing trend among wealthy people, but still very much a niche business,” says Wright. “One of our main maintenance — to make their boating experience as enjoyable as possible. It’s really how we differentiate ourselves. We try to position ourselves in a bit of a boutique segment. This means understanding the client’s expectations and taking a personalized approach — in finding the best boat for them and offering the appropriate kind of service.
We have our repeat customers. An owner who loves boats will generally get a new yacht every three to four years. It’s a key market for us and priorities was to develop the technology to make a smaller and lighter submarine, the Dragon. This opened the door to a wider variety of clientele — you can now own a sub without having to own a 100- to 200million-dollar yacht.”
Can private owners drive their own submarines or do they need trained pilots? “Our private submersibles are very easy to operate,” says Wright. “You have a throttle on one side to control the speed and a joystick on the other side to control the heading. It’s just like a flying an airplane. And to ‘land’ the sub, all you do is turn it off and it floats back to the surface.”
DeepFlight Adventures has chosen the Maldives — a popular destination with Chinese holidaymakers — to develop its submarine tourism business.
The country’s reefs and wildlife make it one of the top dive destinations, and DeepFlight Adventures that’s why we pamper our customers — so they think of us when it’s time to get a new boat. We also have some newcomers, generally Hongkongers or Mainland Chinese established in Hong Kong.
We’re clearly dealing with three generations. First, there are the seniors, who have already had several boats and who keep upgrading. Then, there are the dynamic businessmen, who mostly look for very new, innovative things. Lastly, there’s the third generation — people who just love the water and want to enjoy the sea. Our customers range in age from 20 to 75.
We try to offer the best there is for having fun on the water. Nautique, one of the brands we represent, has developed some extraordinary little boats that carve such a big wave behind them that you can surf on it without a rope — that’s called wakesurfing. We introduced this new sport to Hong Kong and it’s become very fashionable. Many owners also have a boat like this to have fun with when they take their yacht out. wanted to send a strong conservation message by exposing people to the waters around the archipelago.
Wright says submarine adventures are slated to commence in the fourth quarter of 2017, with expeditions lasting from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, at prices starting from US$549 per person. The company has a partnership with Ocean Group, which offers watersport activities at resorts on the islands.
With its striking looks and nimble undersea performance, what car would Wright compare the Super Falcon 3S to? “It’s a bit difficult to compare it to a car — we try to compare it more to an aircraft,” he says. “But if you did have to compare it to a car, I would say … the Batmobile.” Designed for the underwater superhero market, presumably.
There is a trend toward ecofriendly products. Advances in technology enable us to limit fuel consumption. The fuel consumption of a Monte Carlo yacht, which is the top-end line of the Bénéteau group, who we represent, is almost half that of a boat of the same size 15 years ago. But we mustn’t kid ourselves — a boat works by pushing through water, which requires energy and power, and this is pretty incompatible with all-electric operation in the open ocean. Customer-oriented, hardworking and fair. Enjoying life on your own terms.
Is it just me on the island? [laughs] I’d take only one thing — my boat, a Monte Carlo 80.
Of course! I’ve always been on the water and I’ve always had a passion for it. I never sell a boat without trying it out myself. That’s one more guarantee of quality for our customers.
Adam Wright stands in front of a couple of his submersible toys.