Dubai Boat Show: Builders struggle to keep up with billionaires' demands

Rise in high net worth individuals fuels luxury vessel industry

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Worries over the global cost-of-living crisis were cast aside as a fleet of super yachts sailed into town for the opening of the Dubai International Boat Show.

Buyers, sellers and boating enthusiasts descended on Dubai Marina on Wednesday to watch the event unfold.

This year's show features Dh2.5 billion worth of boats, including 35 super yachts.

The National spoke to industry insiders who said business was booming despite all the upheavals in recent years, with new markets playing a key role.

The global yacht market has seen a dramatic post-pandemic boom, with 2022 thought to be among the busiest years ever for the industry.

Whenever there’s a crisis, it is the middle-class and small businesses who are impacted the most. Multimillionaires and billionaires keep on making money
Michel Torbey, Sanlorenzo Yachts

There were 1,024 superyachts being built or on order last year - up 24.7 per cent from 821 the year before, the Boat International Order Book report showed.

The global yacht market in 2021 was valued at $10.80billion - and predicted to rise to more than $15billion by 2026.

“Demand is outstripping supply right now,” said Michel Torbey, Middle Eastern sales representative for manufacturer Sanlorenzo Yachts. "In some cases, used yachts are selling for more than they did when they were brand new.

“We haven’t seen it like this for a long, long time. I would say you would have to go back as far as before the crash of 2008 to see a similarity in how strong the market is right now.

“Business is growing at an insanely expansive rate right now.”

Mr Torbey was in town to promote his company’s yachts, one of which would typically set you back in the region of Dh26 million ($7.08 million).

More than 1,000 companies from 54 countries were taking part in the event, which lasts until Sunday.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine a year ago, along with the subsequent cost-of-living crisis, have played havoc with many sectors, yet the super-yacht market remains buoyant.

“People have got used to the war, last year it was still fairly new but now they don’t have as much fear as they used to about it,” said Mr Torbey.

“The war didn’t actually affect sales all that much at all, to be honest. The Russian market is less than 10 per cent of our client base anyway.

“The owners of yachts were not really affected because whenever there’s a crisis, it is the middle-class and small businesses who are impacted the most.

“Multimillionaires and billionaires keep on making money.”

Boost from China

He explained how a resurgent Chinese market, helped by the country opening up again following pandemic lockdowns, was helping to boost business.

“The Asian market was already doing very well but it’s even better now with the Chinese back again,” said Mr Torbey.

“A lot of our clients in this region are GCC citizens living in this region, while other buyers tend to come from Europe or North America.

“They like having their yachts here and they like using them here.”

Throughout the pandemic many people took up new habits due to social-distancing restrictions — and yachting was no different.

“We saw a lot of new people coming to yachting during the pandemic,” said Alessandro Tirelli, sales director for Italian shipbuilding firm Ferretti Spa.

“The market actually expanded for us because we had new customers added to our existing customer base.

“Many people found it the perfect way to escape during the pandemic and continue to do so.”

The UAE’s role in the global yachting sector should not be underestimated, said Mr Tirelli.

“This is a market that is growing fast and we’re seeing huge opportunity in the entire area,” he said.

“The whole GCC is working together and we’re seeing the market grow. Saudi Arabia has great potential, too, with all the work they are doing on their eastern coast.

“If you look at Dubai as well, it has several marinas all within an hour of each other. There’s been a lot of positive work from both the authorities and the private sector.”

Dubai at the 'epicentre of international events'

The large turnout of super yachts was a sign of how Dubai, and the UAE, was outperforming other areas when it came to hosting international events, said one of the show’s organisers.

“This [Dubai] is the new world, this is the nucleus and epicentre of international events right now,” said Trixie LohMirmand, executive vice president of Dubai World Trade Centre, organisers of the exhibition.

“If you’re not here, then you’re not part of what’s happening next in the world.”

Recent events held in Dubai, including the Gitex technology conference and Gulfood trade show, outperformed similar events in Europe and the US, showing the international appeal of Dubai, she added.

“It’s not just about what’s happening here in the UAE,” said Ms LohMirmand.

“When people come to the UAE, they come here to see what’s happening in the world."

Updated: March 03, 2023, 4:08 AM