A 45-year-old owner of an investment firm in Hong Kong recently bought a $4 million-plus super yacht from Spanish yacht builder Astondoa, and then spent nearly 15 percent of the cost on jazzing it up.
The owner outfitted his new 76-feet four-bedroom boat with a jacuzzi, a Ferrari driving seat and interiors designed by celebrity Italian architect Cristanto Gatto, according to brokerage Asia Boating, which conducted the deal.
“Asian clients are moving towards custom designing their boats, rather than buying designs from factories that make huge quantities of yachts every year,” says Baggy Sartape, general manager of the Hong Kong-based Asia Boating. “And they don’t like to hold back on spending.”
Asia’s yacht market, dominated by Chinese buyers, has been growing at a double-digit pace over the past few years; in 2010, sales of super yachts — boats 70 feet or longer — totaled more than $100 million, according to Hong Kong-based yacht dealer Simpson Marine.
Asia Boating, which has already sold 9 boats this year, says owners now can spend up to 40 percent of the purchase price on additional features.
Some of the common requests from his customers, who are largely from mainland China, Hong Kong and Vietnam, are for jacuzzis, karaoke machines, Bose sound systems and sun-protected decks, says Sartape.
Million-dollar artwork, gambling tables, waterfalls and massage rooms are also among the enhancements.
One of the reasons the rich are spending so much on upgrades is because they don’t want their boat to look like the “other guy's boat," says Sartape.
In Asia, spending on luxury goods is more about image than pleasure, says Mykolas Rambus, CEO of Singapore-headquartered firm Wealth-X that tracks the super rich — those with a net worth of $30 million and above. “There are people who have bought yachts but have never used them. One of them is even gold-plating his boat,” says Rambus.
Unlike in the West, where many yacht owners love sailing, in Asia the boats are often used for corporate entertainment, say industry watchers.
“In the U.S. or Europe, buying a boat is a very personal thing; people sail their yachts and disappear for months. Whereas in Asia, what typically happens is that owners use it as a day boat,” says Ryan Swift, editor of the magazine "Asia-Pacific Boating."
Mike Simpson, managing director of Simpson Marine, says luxury boats in Asia are often designed to accommodate large saloons to host a large number of guests and while most yachts have cabins (bedrooms), they are seldom used.
Similar to picking out luxury bags and watches, Asian customers are extremely brand conscious about their boats, say yacht brokers, with European names such as Beneteau, Azimut, and Princess Yachts among the most popular.
Over the past few years, yacht makers have been targeting the China market, one of the largest in Asia.
“Italian [yacht] producers have gone into China with a really strong hand,” says Swift, trying to capitalize on the popularity of other Italian high-end luxury brands, like Ferrari and Lamborghini.
Several local Chinese manufacturers are also in the market, but Sartape doesn’t think they will gain much traction in the region.
“Asian customers still don’t like the ‘Made in China’ brand; they buy expensive products to flash them around. They want to have a ‘Made in Europe’ tag," he says.