Camper & Nicholsons renews Asia push
CEO of Camper & Nicholsons since 2015, Paolo Casani returned to Asia for the first time in 3½ years to revisit a region where the company’s Hong Kong hub is now complemented by new offices in Singapore and Dubai.
Paolo Casani, CEO, Camper & Nicholsons
How do you feel about the superyacht market in Asia following your visits to Hong Kong and Singapore?
It was my first trip to the region since the Covid era. My last time was in December 2019, when I met the company’s shareholders (Lai Sun Group) in Hong Kong, and we made plans for the beginning of 2020. However, once Covid began, we had to cancel all the plans!
This time, I found a great atmosphere in Hong Kong, even though it only fully opened earlier this year. We had the opportunity to meet some of our clients, who were all making plans and whose businesses were doing much better. Many yachts being built in Europe are for Asian clients, with some projects starting four, five, or even six years ago. This long-term commitment still generates a sense of excitement.
However, I encountered some problems that remained the same as when I last visited, such as the limited availability of superyacht berths in marinas. Most of them are relatively small and lack dedicated space for superyachts and megayachts. It seems that the superyacht sector is resuming from where it left off 3½ years ago, before Covid.
In Singapore, I felt that the recovery from Covid was slightly more advanced, and I believe it’s enjoying a very exciting period. It has always been an important financial hub and is an increasingly important hub in our industry after a lot of family offices from Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan opened branches there, especially in 2022. Also, Singapore hosting a boat show in April, for the first time since 2019, was a very good sign.
In general, I think there’s a lot of wealth moving from North Asia to Southeast Asia, not only to Singapore but also Thailand and Indonesia. It seems there’s quite a commitment to developing the superyacht industry in these countries, despite the need to address certain challenges including regulations, infrastructure and so on.
How has Camper and Nicholsons developed its presence in Asia?
We started Camper & Nicholsons Asia in 2017 by opening an office in Hong Kong. Earlier this year, we opened an office in Singapore as part of our plan to expand our presence in Asia. We have a strong belief in the growth potential of Asia, even though there has been a delay due to Covid. We believe there’s an opportune time for everything, and the resurgence could be just around the corner.
This is the reason we decided to open a second office, where we will improve our sales of brokerage yachts and new builds. There are more clients in Asia building new superyachts than we can guess.
Dr. Peter Lam, Chairman of Lai Sun Group, with Casani
Camper & Nicholsons is one of the very few global superyacht brokerage houses with a stable organisation in Asia, meaning the business is 100 per cent controlled by the company and totally integrated into our international operations. We don’t believe in the franchising and licensing model.
One of our main assets is our client database, the strong relationship with our clients, therefore we maintain strict control over those aspects. Whenever we decide to open an office, in any part of the world, it’s under Camper and Nicholsons’ control. As a result, our Hong Kong office is fully controlled by Camper and Nicholsons, and the same applies to our Singapore office.
This is our business model, which is different from some competitors who have a relationship with established local companies and license their brands. Our approach leans towards prioritising quality over quantity.
Client sales and purchase of pre-owned yachts have been the core business of brokerage houses, but the new build sector seems to be growing, with companies even partnering with shipyards on new designs and concepts. Do you see this sector increasing?
Yes. Even though superyacht builders have their own divisions that work directly with clients, over 50 per cent of new builds are sold through organisations like ours. The reason a client decides to use a brokerage company like Camper & Nicholsons for new construction is quite simple: the added value we can bring.
The new-build process is quite complicated and can depend on the size and type of the yacht. There’s usually a long pre-contractual phase where we work closely with a client – and/or their representative – to understand their lifestyle and what kind of yacht they want. We need to understand what they like, don’t like, crew requirements and so on.
After that, we can proceed with the creation of a design package tender. Following that, we collaborate with the designer to initiate the shipyard tendering process. In the meantime, we’re working with our engineers to develop the first part of the specification of the yacht and confirm flag, classification society and so on.
After the shipyard signs the contract, the production phase starts, during which we closely monitor the project on an almost daily basis, observing quality standards and ensuring everything is built according to specifications.
The final part of the production starts when the boat is in the water and this is probably one of the most important phases, with the sea trials and testing of the equipment and machinery installations before delivery. Strict control of processes reduces the potential for problems and increases the owners’ enjoyment of the yacht from handover.
The management of the yacht also starts with the delivery phase and includes crew training, compliance, accounting, regulations and so on. The captain is typically involved earlier in the process, before the rest of the crew begin working.
Not all yachts are for charter but if the owner wishes to charter the yacht, we can welcome the yacht into our fleet, market and promote it. If yachts have a skilled and efficient crew on board, they are quite productive in generating charter revenue, which can partially offset running costs. Of course, this depends on the periods and amount of time the owner makes the yacht available for charter.
We typically work with an owner from the very beginning of a project, whether it’s a new build or a second-hand yacht. Our job is to ensure the owner doesn’t have to spend any more time on the project than they want to. We’re a one-stop shop providing luxury services for superyachts.
Have sailing yachts increased in appeal during the Covid era?
Overall, sales of all types of superyachts during Covid increased compared to previous years and we’ve traditionally been more focused on sailing yachts than most other brokerage houses. More than motor yachts, sailing yachts represent the idea of freedom and healthy living, and these factors became more valued during the Covid era.
Looking ahead, I anticipate a stabilisation of sales, with sailing yachts typically representing less than 10 per cent of superyachts. They account for close to 10 per cent of our sales.
Has the increased popularity of sustainable propulsion and energy made sailing yachts more relevant now?
Pollution and consumption are more relevant now than ever before. There is a growing shift in attention towards these issues, although their significance in the yachting industry is not yet as important compared to other industries. Yachting lags behind the automotive industry, for example, although this is somewhat understandable due to the nature of the industries.
The focus on reducing emissions started years ago, before the discussion of using electric-hybrid or hydrogen propulsion, when people were looking for long-range yachts that were focused more on lower consumption than speed. Long term, I believe more in the future of hydrogen propulsion than electric or hybrid-electric.
Octopus, the 126m Lürssen shown above in Antarctica, is one of the charter-managed yachts offered by Camper & Nicholsons
What do you see as the main challenges for the superyacht industry in the coming years?
Firstly, regulations. There isn’t a unified European yacht registry, for example, so each country still maintains its own rules. If you think about chartering yachts across Europe or moving from one country to another, you may face different regulations. The lack of consistency poses both challenges and opportunities in terms of yacht operations.
Cost of components is another challenge. In the last couple of years, the price of steel almost doubled. Many yachts under construction and with signed contracts were sometimes charged for the extra costs, which nobody could have foreseen, and this generated a lot of issues and delays in delivering yachts.
Price increases applied to many components including electrical components and batteries, which had an incredible increase. We hope this side of the business will stabilise.
Over the next two to three years, shipyards will confront a challenge related to timely delivery. Most shipyards have an incredible order book, but there’s a lack of manpower, workforce and sub-contractors, so many of the delays in delivery come from this.
How do see the profile of superyacht owners changing, such as shifting or expanding from inherited family wealth to entrepreneurs and newly created fortunes?
It has changed a lot and will continue to change with the evolution of generations. Many of our clients come from the traditional wealthy background, although increasingly we deal with representatives, family offices, banks and other financial institutions, rather than directly with clients.
This changes the type of relationship. When you talk directly with the owner, there are some emotional elements that make the relationship special, unique, as each client is different. But when you talk to a representative, the relationship is more technical, based on business. This is already a great change.
Casani presents a book honouring 240 years of Camper & Nicholsons to Bernard d’Alessandri, General Secretary of Yacht Club de Monaco
In addition to this, there’s a massive increase in the use of technology and I’m talking just in the last 10 years, not decades or a century ago! Our own activities have also changed. Today, when we approach a potential buyer, we’re using technology that wasn’t available before.
It presents an opportunity for us, as leveraging our technology enables us to provide clients with more precise and efficient information, particularly for prototypes.
The new generation is making us stay on top of technology. For example, more people are booking daily charters on smaller boats online. Today, our advanced online system enables our clients to accomplish much, if not most, of the process remotely. Technology is increasingly being used as a tool, so we’ve established ourselves as leaders in this field.
In addition to the Hong Kong office, you opened offices in the UAE last year and Singapore this year, and recently appointed Julien Solari as Asia Chief Commercial Officer. So, how is the future looking for Camper & Nicholsons in this region?
These are all part of our strategy with our shareholders. We’re going to expand to key areas where the company was not physically present, although this does not imply that we were not actively involved in those markets, as we certainly were. On a side note, we’ve also recently opened an office in Greece, which has been the destination for 25 per cent of our charters this year.
Our expansion strategy also follows a flow of wealth, such as from North Asia to Southeast Asia and from Europe to the Middle East. Our Dubai office doesn’t only serve UAE but the whole Middle East, where Saudi Arabia is investing hugely in internal infrastructure and even directly in the yacht building industry.
Camper & Nicholsons has always been and will continue to be a trendsetter, so we’re always considering areas of growth and looking to invest in potential.
Casani joined Camper & Nicholsons as CEO in 2015, following an impressive career in the fashion and yachting sectors. Having established himself in executive roles with designer fashion brands such as Armani, Valentino, Calvin Klein and Ferragamo, the Italian drew upon this expertise to fuse the luxury goods sector with the luxury yachting industry by joining Azimut- Benetti Group in 2008, becoming CEO of Azimut in 2010. Five years later, he joined Camper & Nicholsons, which celebrated its 240th anniversary in 2022, having been founded in 1782 in Gosport, England.