Carmen Lau on travel’s trials and tribulations during Covid
Despite stressful global travel restrictions during the Covid era, Carmen Lau of superyacht brokerage Camper & Nicholsons has been flying around Europe, the Middle East and Asia to attend sea trials and meetings, visit shipyards and represent clients.
Carmen Lau, Senior Advisor, Camper & Nicholsons
A little over two years ago, going from a meeting in Hong Kong to a shipyard in Italy with a stop-off at Camper & Nicholsons’ London office could be organised on your phone in the taxi on the way to the airport. Back then, business travellers used to think one person in front of them at check-in was an inconvenience. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be stuck in one of those queues again!
Travel, as with most areas of our daily lives, has been rather complicated since spring 2020. It’s also hugely stressful, especially when people are counting on you.
In Italy last year, I was booked to attend a sea trial on a fully-crewed superyacht, which typically would have involved a short internal flight between two cities.
However, as it was at the height of the pandemic, and despite my almost 20 years of industry experience, nothing could have prepared me for the day I learned my Covid certificate was not accepted for my flight. I had one day to make it to that shipyard and was currently over 220km away.
Camper & Nicholsons at the Monaco Yacht Show
Panicking, I had to run – in heels – to a nearby Covid test centre to try to get a valid certificate in time to board the following morning. However, when I arrived at the door of the test centre, they denied me entry because I had the wrong type of face mask. Furthermore, the hospital didn’t sell the one I needed. I was in tears.
It wasn’t the denial of entry that broke me emotionally or the thought of having to restructure my travel arrangements yet again. It was when an Italian security guard saw my distress, walked over and pulled out a brand-new FPP2 mask from his pocket. “Here’s my spare one,” he said, handing it to me.
STATE OF THE MARKET
For the last two years, it has been imperative that I continue meeting all my clients’ requests and ensuring they feel secure in their dealings with me. As such, I’ve spent a lot of time travelling to multiple countries and meeting potential clients, shipyards, surveyors and suppliers.
Considering how difficult it has been to travel and how most people in Asia have flown so rarely, this has put me in a privileged position in the yachting industry, knowing first-hand what is happening in leading shipyards and hearing the needs of yacht owners around the world.
With former Benetti colleagues at the Monaco Yacht Show
Despite the numerous challenges of the past two years, the market has remained extremely active. According to a study by C&N, there are just over 1,000 superyachts over 80ft in build in 2022, representing a 30 per cent increase on the average of the previous five years.
This demand has been evident in my conversations with people across the industry. The pandemic put life into perspective for many, and people are ready to get out on the water and happy to invest in superyachts.
I felt this sentiment at the Monaco Yacht Show last September. With the previous year’s edition cancelled, it was nice to go back and see familiar faces. Unfortunately, due to stringent quarantine requirements, few brokers from Asia were able to make it and I was one of the lucky few who did.
My main mission was to view the yachts in-show on behalf of our clients, arrange live viewings, share the latest yacht launches and design attractive offers with them.
With Camper & Nicholsons colleagues inspecting a 24m new build at Codecasa
I was also able to sign a contract for a 24m Gentleman’s Yacht by Codecasa on behalf of an experienced yacht owner in Southeast Asia on the first day of the show. C&N’s New Build Division are supervising the construction of this aluminium build, which is scheduled for delivery in 2023.
SENDING ECLIPSE TO ASIA
Once the show wrapped up, I travelled to Naples in southern Italy on behalf of a client to inspect Eclipse, a 43m Feadship. The captain and crew were extremely professional and efficient, which made things easy for me.
After meeting with the client via Zoom, I completed a sea trial and spent the rest of the day going through details with the crew. I was able to complete a thorough assessment of the condition and maintenance of the yacht within the day, and send the report back to the client over the weekend.
While waiting for their response, I travelled to Viareggio further up Italy’s west coast to visit a few new build projects. Between meetings, I was even able to visit the UK for my son’s birthday before heading back to Italy, in Imperia by the border with France, to close the sale of Eclipse with my colleague Alex Lees-Buckley.
On the 46m Feadship Eclipse
An experienced, well-respected broker, Alex has sold this yacht several times in the past and we were able to close this deal smoothly within 45 days. As the purchasing client was unable to view the yacht in person, I was honoured to have gained the client’s trust and gladly accepted the yacht on their behalf.
The yacht was due to be shipped to Asia in November, yet the pandemic again played havoc with scheduling. With long queues in various transit ports, we were only able to ship Eclipse at the end of December and I didn’t see the yacht again until months later, back in Asia.
SHIPYARD IN THE DESERT
My travels weren’t over. On behalf of another client, I travelled to Dubai to visit Gulf Craft. I found it to be a highly organised shipyard with a complete in-house production team for everything from design and construction to technical implementation and interior design. It was staggering to see such fine-tuned infrastructure in the middle of the desert.
In the desert in the UAE
At Mina Rashid Marina, where Gulf Craft has an office, I viewed Nomad’s flagship 95 SUV while the client joined us via Zoom. I was also lucky enough to view an impressive Majesty 140 before it travelled to the US.
During my visit, the UAE celebrated its 50th National Day, so the shipyard organised activities and experiences for their guests, including serving authentic and delicious Emirati treats.
Hong Kong’s Covid restrictions were tightened before Chinese New Year, but as soon as the quarantine period was reduced from 21 days to 14, I booked the first flight I could as I needed to return to the city to follow up on several projects.
However, as the UK was on Hong Kong’s red list, I first needed to fly to Italy for a mandated ‘wash out’ period of two weeks before I could then to fly to Hong Kong, via the UAE and Thailand. Direct, it was not.
Rest assured, I didn’t rest. On the contrary, I toured a total of nine shipyards in Italy. Between the coastal stretch from Viareggio to La Spezia, I visited Benetti, Sanlorenzo, Codecasa, Mangusta, Perini Navi and Tecnomar.
At CRN with Fabiomassimo Discoli of Ferretti Group Asia Pacific
I then flew to Ancona on the east coast to see Cantiere delle Marche (CdM), CRN of Ferretti Group and Palumbo Shipyard. I viewed many of their products and inspected five new build projects I was involved in.
I also had many conversations that have provided invaluable insights into the state of the market. These insights have informed the advice I’ve given to prospective and longstanding clients alike.
For example, the prices of raw materials will continue to increase. Gianpaolo Lapenna, Palumbo Shipyard’s General Manager, confirmed that aluminium has doubled in price and the cost of electricity has increased by 40 per cent. Despite all this, most shipyards are at full capacity. For example, the next availability at CdM isn’t until 2025!
At the Palumbo/Columbus Yachts booth at MYS
Due to such a high volume of sales, suppliers and subcontractors are in high demand. It’s a challenging period for production and purchase teams. They need to ensure production schedules are met while keeping build costs down, a difficult task considering the rising cost of raw materials and made more difficult by Covid-related supply-chain issues. Meeting deadlines is harder than ever.
As such, when I’m discussing new build projects with my clients, I advise them to make their decision ahead of schedule to allow shipyards to lock in the price and parts in advance to meet the production and delivery schedule.
HONG KONG HOMECOMING
After my two-week stay was completed, I finally headed back to Hong Kong, albeit with two stops along the way and with another two weeks of hotel quarantine at the end of the journey.
Flying back to Hong Kong
However, it was great to be back and I was happy to complete the sale of another of my listings, an Azimut Grande 35 Metri. I also organised the premiere of the brand-new CLX96 in Hong Kong in May, as C&N is the central agent for CL Yachts’ latest and largest model.
Most importantly of all, I was able to see my proud client as he received Eclipse. Because, when it comes down to it, that’s what makes the travels, trials and tribulations worth it: to see happy clients on board their new yacht, ready for whatever adventures lie ahead of them.
Now a Senior Advisor at Camper & Nicholsons, Lau set up the company’s Asia headquarters in Hong Kong in 2017 and helped expand its charter, management and brokerage services among Asia-based clients. Involved in superyachts since 2004, Lau has worked for Kingship and Benetti, and acted as an owner’s representative through her own consultancy.