BUILDING ASIA’S SUPERYACHT HUB
Singapore Yacht Show founder Andy Treadwell moved from Monaco to Asia nearly ten years ago and founded the superyacht show that has become the cornerstone of the industry in Asia. Here, he discusses the successes so far, and the challenges to come, in tur
The Peak: Can you give us a preview of what visitors can expect from this year’s Singapore Yacht Show (SYS)? Andy Treadwell: We will have an even bigger mix than usual of new product from the world’s leading boating brands. Last year was a record for regional debuts, and it looks like this year’s event will see even more. Continuously having new, top quality brands on display helps attract buyers from all over Asia.
It’s still the charter season in Thailand and Indonesia, so it’s too early to confirm the exact line-up of big boats, but there are a few special ones that we have been asked to keep confidential for the time being. We’ve got a good showing of the 30 to 60-metre range, which is by far the most popular in these parts.
We’ve had some amazing boats over the past few years – Anastasia, Vertigo, Twizzle, and Silver Fast come to mind – and it’s going to be difficult to get anything much bigger into the marina. But I believe we will succeed in our mission to get the tax laws surrounding foreign superyacht charter in Thailand changed, and then we will see the global charter fleet start coming to Asia in numbers – that will change everything, and then we can really have a show. TP: The SYS has succeeded in creating a superyacht exhibition hub in Asia that hasn’t been achieved until now. What were the missing ingredients that SYS added/key issues that SYS addressed to make it happen? AT: Honestly, it’s about why you’re doing it – what’s the objective, what’s the strategy, is there a need for the industry, what’s the best location – and who is doing it. We’ve always had a knowledgeable, industry-focused team at SYS, all incredibly dedicated, loyal, hard working and passionate – and this is what we do. We don’t do anything else – we are not a marina owner, nor an association, a property player, or a media group. We don’t have any other agendas and we’re not trying to jump on any bandwagons to make a few extra bucks – we just do boat shows, and we are totally focused on that. And I have been prepared to invest – we’re trying to make it commercially successful too, otherwise we won’t be able to continue – but it’s a struggle in this industry and in this very expensive location. I believe we will get there soon, but you need scale in the events business to become properly profitable.
TP: You were originally looking at other locations for the event that is now SYS, including Hong Kong. Why did a Hong Kong show not work out? AT: There were already two shows in Hong Kong at the time (one has since ended), but even if the industry wasn’t happy with them and wanted a new one, it was not the right strategic location for what we were trying to do. Why it didn’t work out with any of the previous shows is not for me to say – but probably for all the reasons I’ve mentioned above.
My business plan has never changed from day one – if you want to grow the yachting industry in Asia, you have to start by getting government interest to support it. And the only way to do that is to focus initially on getting the superyachts coming to the destination part of the region – Southeast Asia. The big boats bring in the kind of economic impact and high-end, high-spending tourism that governments want, but these boats have to be able to charter in the main cruising areas. For boats coming from the Mediterranean, Thailand is the first place they hit, and a cruising area and luxury destination they’ve all heard of. It then becomes a whole lobbying process – which has taken far longer in Thailand than I bargained for – to get the ASEAN region working together. Once we get a real charter industry happening here, then all the potential new buyers in China and elsewhere will come out of the woodwork.
TP: The show is now in its 8th edition. Can you describe how the show has evolved since its inception? What part of the show’s development are you most proud of? AT: It’s about trying to make it bigger and better every year, but it’s become very difficult to do that if we don’t get the revenues we need. Competition undoubtedly
holds us back, and sponsorship is very, very difficult in Singapore – we’re looking overseas now for financing. If we could get the support, we would all immediately see the show evolve into a truly international marketplace – we should be able to host overseas media, celebrities, and thousands of potential buyers, and get business moving for everyone.
So I’m not as satisfied as I could be. But what I am really proud of is the amazing team that we always seem to be able to bring together every year. They are all exceptional people, and I’m proud to say they’re my team.
TP: Exhibitors at past shows have included a range of things outside yachts, including art galleries, aviation and property. How have the segments outside yachting grown (or decreased)? AT: We’ve been asked to add more complementary lifestyle stuff – entertainment, retail opportunities for F&B, fashion, and so on, as well as the property and private aviation vendors who yacht buyers generally want to meet – so that SYS appeals to a wider audience. But whilst it’s good to give visitors more reasons to come, I don’t really want to go too far down that route – we’ve got a very limited space, and we need to keep it a boat show. It’s more important to showcase more of the marine lifestyle – water sports, fishing, diving, surfing etc – all the accessories that you’d find on a big yacht.
I’d rather do other new shows in different but closely aligned sectors that appeal to the same community we’ve built up through our yacht shows. That’s our plan.
TP: In terms of visitors, where do most come from, and what countries do you see as potential markets in future? How important is the show for mainland Chinese buyers? AT: About half our visitors come from Singapore, and the other half – around 7,000 last year – come in from elsewhere in Asia. We could attract many, many more
qualified buyers if we had the marketing budget to go out and get them. It’s not all about China – every country in the region has its fun seekers and its growing affluent community – but China is obviously a very important market.
There are no proper boat shows there, and the government is actively discouraging people from buying foreign-built boats or anything else that points to conspicuous consumption. This means that the high-end lifestyle seekers from China are susceptible to come to Singapore to buy boats, and then keep them in Thailand or Indonesia.
Indonesia is not really working as a boating destination either, because they have even more draconian import duties and difficulties with regulation – but I think that will all start to change once Thailand takes the lead and gets people coming to the region.
TP: Can you describe the Phuket show – has it been going as you hoped, and what is your expectation from this new show in future? AT: The Thailand Yacht Show (TYS) was launched by the Thai Government – not by us – in 2015, and we were chosen to organize it on their behalf. It was specifically conceived to grow the yacht tourism industry, with a major focus on foreign superyacht charter, and to develop Thailand as a hub for the regional boating industry. They support it financially to an extent, which is great, but we don’t yet get enough support from the industry or from corporate sponsors to make up the rest of a decent budget. It’s a shame, because it’s a demonstration of the government’s intention to develop this sector – and having worked very closely with them for the last three years, I can assure you it’s very genuine – so all the industry should be playing their part in pushing that.
If we want to develop the industry, then improving regulations – harmonizing and simplifying them throughout the ASEAN Economic Community should be obvious and easy enough – and allowing foreign yachts to come here and charter is the best place to start. Thailand, and specifically Phuket, is the best destination for that, in terms of infrastructure as well as cruising grounds. Although it’s not a business destination, it is where you can go and get out on the water and try stuff out. That’s what we want TYS to become – not just another boat show, more an experiential festival of boating. Singapore is the brand show, taking place in the business, financial and luxury capital of Southeast Asia. So the two together cover all the aspects of the industry that that we need to be promoting.
One of the principal, stated objectives of the Thai government is to get some of the 5,000-strong global fleet of superyachts to start coming to Thailand and Southeast Asia, to make this region a new winter destination. Currently, nearly all of the big yachts spend the summer season in the Mediterranean, and those that want to cruise all year round go to the Caribbean for the winter, where they can charter freely. But they have been doing this for 40 or 50 years, so it is time to try something new, and there’s a fantastic amount of cruising areas to discover in ASEAN.
Our aim with the two different but complementary events is to raise Asia’s profile overall as a yachting destination on a global scale. We are highlighting its amazing cruising grounds and working to improve the infrastructure for captains and brokers around the world. In order to do so, we need to engage governments in Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam in the northern part of the region, with Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
Has it been going as I had hoped? No, not quite. It has been fantastically motivating to work with Thai government representatives who have always been enthusiastic and proactive in trying to get this whole yachting project moving. However, one of the biggest problems we have had with the first three years has been the slowness of the process and the delay in getting the definitive go-ahead to launch each year. We totally respect that that’s the way the funding process works, and there have additionally been periods of national mourning delaying things for the last two years. It has meant that we have ended up with only two months each time to promote and execute the show, which makes it not easy. So now I am asking them for a three-year plan and a decision to change the VAT regulations and allow foreign superyachts to charter in Thai waters.
TP: Do you anticipate bringing an exhibition like SYS to Hong Kong in the future? If so, what are the main obstacles, in your view? AT: I do believe there is room for a proper show in Hong Kong to support the local industry there – and also because it is by far the most mature market in Asia (dare I say the only one for superyachts, anyway), as well as being the gateway to the biggest potential buying market in China. But for a show there to work, again, it would have to have the right strategic objectives, have the support of the whole industry, and preferably the government too – and be organized in the best venue by a professional show organizer. The 2018 Singapore Yacht Show runs from April 12 to 15, 2018, at Sentosa Cove.