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Can Singapore become the 'Monaco of the East'?

Luxury boats and yachts on display during the Singapore Yacht show at ONE°15 Marina Club at Sentosa cove on April 10, 2014.
Roslan Rahman | AFP | Getty Images
Luxury boats and yachts on display during the Singapore Yacht show at ONE°15 Marina Club at Sentosa cove on April 10, 2014.

As the Singapore Yacht Show gets under way this week, experts told CNBC the wealthy island nation was on the cusp of becoming the 'Monaco of the East.'

Although traditional stereotypes dictate that sailing and yachting might not be activities people normally associate with Asian culture, the preconception is radically changing, experts told CNBC, as Singapore and the region as a whole's ultra-rich fast develop a taste for the luxury yachting lifestyle.

"I don't think it's a matter of whether we will become the Monaco of the East I think we're pretty much there. It's quite an accepted lifestyle certainly for the wealthy here," said Paul Whelan, the general manager for Simpson Marine.

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"Singapore has a very stable political environment, a very attractive economy and a safe and secure banking system. We're a small country just like Monaco and we have wonderful cruising grounds very close just like Monaco," he added.

And with Singapore was recently classified the most expensive city in the world by the Economist Intelligence Unit's most recent survey, it certainly seems to the place to tap the uber wealthy.

The wealthy sovereign city state of Monaco is located on the French Riviera in Western Europe, and is considered a hub for luxury living and the yachting industry.

The fourth annual Singapore Yacht show kicked off on Thursday for four days and is expected to attract over 11,000 visitors. It has 70 vessels on display worth a collective half a billion dollars, ranging from smaller boats to 'super yachts' which are often classified as yachts over 80 feet although definitions vary.

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Other experts CNBC spoke to were more tentative to label Singapore the Monaco of the East, but said they definitely saw the potential.

"Singapore has all the assets and elements to become the Monaco of the East, it's the culture of boating that needs to be honed," said Oh Kean Shen, the managing director of Malaysian boat manufacturer Pen Marine.

"Of course money in Singapore is not a problem but there must be a mentality to do that. It's going to take time to change, time is the only medicine," added Tilli Antonelli, CEO and founder Italian yacht manufacturer Wider.

Antonelli added that the reputation of yachting hubs like Monaco and St Tropez had taken decades to establish.

"Monaco is Monaco because it's in the South of France, it's close to Cannes and St Tropez, and St Tropez took about 40-50 years to have this reputation because of celebrities visiting and staying in the country," he added.

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However, both Antonelli and Oh said they saw the South East Asian yachting industry in a sweet spot at the moment.

"We have been doing this for the last 20 years in Asia and we have seen growth. I think there is a little kink of acceleration at the moment," said Oh.

"The good thing about Singapore is that it has a lot of foreign people who live here and they are used to that kind of lifestyle at home. So when the locals see what the expats are doing, then there will be a following," he added.

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Interestingly, the typical profile of an Asian yacht owner is much younger than in the West, Simpson Marine's Whelan pointed out.

"The average Asian yacht owner is younger than that in the West, usually in their mid-40s. In the West, it's more people who have been successful in their career and are enjoying their money in their 50s. There is a lot more new money in Asia," he said, adding that buyers range from Singaporean Chinese, Singaporean Indian together with foreign expats.

Singapore does have some challenges to overcome before it can reach its potential as a yachting hub, however, Whelan added.

"In Singapore we are facing a shortage of berths, we do need to see increasing level of services here to cater to these yachts, especially in terms of the repair facilities and after-sales contractors," he added.

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