Lies Sol on Thailand’s returning appeal for superyachts
After a dry spell for superyacht activity in Thailand, Phuket-based Lies Sol of Northrop & Johnson says government support for marine tourism, increasing visitor arrivals and returning confidence in yachting in the region point to better days ahead.
Note: The following Column originally appeared in YACHT STYLE Issue 69.
Lies Sol of Northrop & Johnson Asia-Pacific
Back in the 1990s, I was crewing on the very first superyacht for charter in Phuket, a classic 32m Benetti named Amanaputri. Her graceful lines and elegant, rounded stern certainly attracted attention, but most of all, her sheer size immediately turned heads in Phuket, where there were few yachts above 20m in those days.
Even though the superyacht charter industry hasn’t boomed as fast and furiously as people back then had predicted and wished for, decades later there are many more 30m-plus yachts in Phuket – for charter and private use – and a lot more has changed.
Some yachts left Thailand because of the pandemic, but two Northrop & Johnson-managed yachts opted for a different approach.
Xanadu, a 34m Moonen motor yacht, took advantage of the lull in charter business to undertake a complete, multi-million-dollar refit, which took over two years. Mia Kai, a 30m Bilgin motor yacht, temporarily shifted to different market segments such as short overnight and day charters for the domestic market.
Thailand’s new strategic marine tourism plan is also among recent positive developments, with the Ministry of Tourism and Sports directly supporting the Thailand Charter Week held last November.
Through the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the Ministry pledged international promotion of Thailand as a prime yachting destination at major boat shows including Dubai in the Middle East, Sydney in Australia, Monaco and Cannes in Europe, and Fort Lauderdale in the US.
Indiana (39m), Xanadu (34m) and Mia Kai (30m) at the second Thailand Charter Week
Furthermore, tourists are steadily coming back to Thailand. After less than 500,000 visitors throughout 2021, visitor arrivals increased each month last year to top 11.5 million for 2022, a nice recovery, although there’s still some way to go compared to the record 39 million in 2019.
However, in direct competition with the Caribbean charter season, Phuket and Thailand do not automatically come to mind when most of the world’s superyacht owners and captains make their cruising plan, or when charter brokers propose yachts for their clients’ winter boating holiday.
TAT promotions to showcase the world-class cruising locations around Phuket and complementary luxury facilities ashore – from five-star private villas, spa treatments, golf courses and outstanding restaurants to beach clubs and excellent medical facilities – will help to place Phuket on the map as a desirable destination.
Importantly, Phuket offers safe berthing in world-class marinas such as the Phuket Yacht Haven and Ao Po Grand Marina. New projects include the recently announced Port Macchanu, which will provide 40 berths for yachts up to 50m, onshore facilities for crew, restaurants, a gym, supermarket, convention hall and the PSY Shipyard, which will be able to service yachts up to 60m.
Beautiful cruising locations are begging to be discovered, world-class facilities are here, but are superyachts coming? Marieke Derks of Sevenstar Yacht Transport Asia confirmed that during Covid, many private and charter yachts in Thailand were sold and/or shipped elsewhere, as overseas-based owners wanted their yachts in their home cruising grounds for easier access.
The 46.5m Navis One is a new arrival in Phuket
“However, while Asia-based owners have continued to buy and ship new yachts from the yards, after the second half of the 2022 Mediterranean season, we noticed a significant increase in enquiries from foreign yacht owners seeking to ship to Asia,” she says.
“Owners may presently still decide for ‘good old’ destinations in the Caribbean and the Med, but there seems to be a growth in interest for wider exploration again, with clients considering Thailand and other Asian countries as their next cruising or charter destination.
“We are easing into a ‘new normal’, with more deck space available again on most shipping routes and some relief in shipping prices. I’d say the uptake in demand and availability of deck space is promising.”
It’s notable that arrivals for short-term or long-term stays of private and charter yachts new to Southeast Asia are picking up. Among recent newcomers are Octave (36m Sanlorenzo), Family (38m Benetti), Cloudbreak (75m Abeking & Rasmussen) and Navis One (46.5m Gentech/Soraya), which is also managed by Northrop & Johnson.
There’s no better place to spend time together than on a beautiful yacht in complete privacy with luxury facilities, plenty of water toys and activities, and surrounded by stunning yet varied scenery. Northrop & Johnson is looking forward to being of service to you again in 2023.
Sol is Head of Charter for Northrop & Johnson (N&J) Asia-Pacific and a Board Member of the Thai Yachting Business Association (TYBA), and was part of TYBA’s organising committee for the first two editions of the Thailand Charter Week, in 2019 and 2022. Sol first worked in yacht charter for N&J from 2013-2018 before a stint with Camper & Nicholsons (2018-19).