The future of the yacht and leisure boating industry lies in the Middle East. This is what experts and participants at the just-concluded Dubai International Boat Show (Dibs) had to say.
Even though the Dibs did feel the effects of the ongoing global economic crisis, it did better than most of the shows held in the West this year, they said.
Marine industry expert Mike Derett told Emirates Business: "There has been a slowdown in the yacht and leisure boating industry worldwide and the future is now in Asia, particularly in the Middle East.
"The marine industry is now moving from the West to the East because the market there is saturated and this is a new emerging market as it is a fast growing region.
"Also, money drives the yacht and leisure boating industry and the West at this point of time has taken a beating because of the economic crisis so this is the place where the industry will continue to grow.
"Even though right now things might be a bit slow here due to the economic crisis, the fact remains the future is here in the medium and long term."
Wael Juju, Chief Executive Officer, Knotika Holding, said: "Even though the region has also been hit by the economic crisis, the GCC is the fastest growing marine market in the world by a wide margin. It is one of the only markets left in the world today that is still showing positive growth."
Patrick Sulzer, Executive Manager, aQuatech Yachts, said: "There has been a massive slowdown in general in the yachting industry globally. It is not a rosy picture at the moment. The recent boat show in Miami had a very poor turnout. This region has also been hit but the future looks good as they have a pragmatic leadership and they are also ensuring that all companies who do business here also have to set up their production facilities here. They are growing the industry here."
This fact that the GCC is considered to be the next big thing in the marine circles was reflected in the fact that even if the boat show did not grow larger this year it did not show a negative growth either. In fact its super-yacht pavilion grew by 45 per cent this year.
Trixee Loh, Senior Vice-President, Dubai World Trade Centre, organisers of Dibs, said: "This year 700 companies from 50 countries participated in the show. The size and stature of the show has remained the same.
"This is quite significant given the fact that other global boat shows this year have declined due to the economic crisis. However, the Dibs has kept its size and we have also experienced 45 per cent growth in the super-yacht pavilion. In fact more super-yacht companies were keen to come here but all our 54 berths were sold out by then. In fact, 20 per cent of the exhibitors at the show were new to the GCC market.
"The reason for the keen interest by exhibitors in the boat show was due to the fact that worldwide there has been a slump and the GCC is the only region where the market is still holding on to the business and companies go where they feel they will get a return on the money they spent for exhibiting their products.
"In fact, a lot of non-marine industry related companies also exhibited at the show this year like Tiffany & Co, Dhamani Jewels, Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Paspaley Pearls to name a few as these days companies have to find more innovative ways to market their products and people who come to boat shows have the money to buy these luxury items. So the show has done well in terms of its stature and importance in the marine world calendar."
Erwin Bamps, Executive Manager, Gulf Craft Inc, said: "Given the current economic slowdown, our expectations for this year were realistic. However we had more dealers and customers for the Dibs 2009 than in previous years."
The highlights of the boat show this year were the super-yacht pavilion that was located within the luxury supplies and services area where interior designers, charter and brokerage companies also exhibited. There was even an exclusive majlis for VIP guests to meet with super-yacht companies for private one to one meetings and bespoke tours.
Superyacht companies like Abeking & Rasmussen, Amels, Burger Boats, Feadship, Heesen Yachts, and Trinity Yachts exhibited at the show. World renowned superyacht manufacturer, Lürssen, makers of some of the world's largest yachts including the 155-metre long 'Al Said', owned by Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, were also one of the companies that exhibited in the super-yacht pavilion.
Apart from that, the other attention grabbers at the show were the 38-metre special edition yacht by Sunseeker Middle East and the Superhawk 43 that was used in the latest Bond movie The Quantum of Solace by Sunseeker Middle East.
The other major attraction at the show was the Majesty 121, the largest yacht on display from Gulf Craft's flagship brand Majesty Yachts.
Talking about their biggest buyers and the trend in the Middle East, Ali Al Jafla, the Managing Director of Sunseeker Middle East which has seven boats on display this year, said: "We have been exhibiting at the Dibs for the last 11 years. Even though we have seen a slow down in business from 2008 due to the economic crisis, our biggest buyers still remain from the GCC countries. The people out here are very partial to luxury boats."
Bamps said: "We launched a total of four models which includes the Majesty 121 and Majesty 63, Oryx 54 and Silver craft 34. The Majesty 121, was the largest yacht on display from Gulf Craft's flagship brand Majesty Yachts and contains a host of amenities and features the latest high-tech entertainment facilities combined with style and luxury.
"The Oryx 54 will be the most dynamic yacht for the young generation. It is built with a strong focus on the fun element combined with excellent technological features. Sporting a young look, it is high tech to the core. It's the first yacht to be equipped with Blue Ray disc players, Play Station 3, latest Garmin touch screen navigation, and much more. Gulf Craft yachts offer features that even people don't expect in a car these days. The Oryx 54 is our answer to the financial challenges as an excellently priced young family yacht.
"The trend has been and will be the continuation of sales of small boats. Approximately 75 per cent of the sales are of boats smaller than 40 feet. However, the super yachts continue to rule in the affluent market. This trend is not just a regional trend but a global one. For us in terms of units, the largest selling product will be the small boats for the next 12 to 18 months from both the Silvercraft and Oryx range. It represents the largest chunk in the market."
Explaining the reason for this, Derett said: "A large number of people in the GCC countries are expatriates so they prefer the smaller boats. However, the emiratis and GCC nationals prefer luxury boats that are above 15 metres.