Lies Sol: Thailand missing the boat for superyacht charters
In a Column for Yacht Style, Northrop & Johnson’s Lies Sol says Thailand’s waters are now at their most appealing, but unfriendly regulations mean many superyacht owners and charter clients are heading elsewhere.
Lies Sol, Charter Manager, Northrop & Johnson Asia-Pacific
As Charter Manager for Northrop & Johnson Asia-Pacific, I had wanted to present one of our exclusive charter listings to local agents before the start of Phuket’s high season this past winter. Motor yacht Xanadu of London, a 34m Moonen, was about to be relaunched after a multi-million dollar refit, so I planned a simple ‘open house’.
As I’m also a Retail Charter Broker, I realised local charter brokers and agents probably needed a refresher on yachts available in and around Phuket, so while having coffee with industry colleagues, I proposed to host an event at Phuket Yacht Haven Marina. They were all keen to join and before I could say “this is not a boat show”, I had a line-up of 17 yachts including a few for sale.
Billed as a ‘luxury yacht display’, the Phuket Open Boat last November not only proved successful but also provided a much-needed morale boost before the high season.
Phuket Open Boat was held at Yacht Haven
Captains and crew moved into top gear to get yachts charter ready and looking their best. Charter agents caught up with each other and were able to visit many yachts in one go. And new relationships were forged with, among others, luxury hospitality professionals who appreciated the chance to personally inspect yachts for their resorts and villa guests.
NEW CHARTER CLIENTS
Thailand’s charter market has shifted sharply over the past few years. I remember the days when clients eagerly booked boating holidays long in advance. Now, some requests for superyacht charter come in almost too late to be considered.
While a 15-20m yacht can be charter ready within a day or two, a superyacht will need much more than a week to finish or pause any ongoing maintenance work, deep-clean the yacht, and provision and prepare for a charter. Rather than enquiries for charters from 10 days to two weeks, we now receive requests for a one-day trip or overnight cruises for just two to three days.
Xanadu of London is one of Phuket’s premier charter yachts
Also, instead of tourists coming from overseas for a holiday, the clients are generally residing in Thailand or here already for a long-term stay. If it’s their first experience on a yacht, they may not want to commit to a long period on board before they know what luxury yacht charter is all about.
Thailand’s ‘regular tourists’ suffer frequently changing Covid entry requirements and fear the risks of travel, getting stuck in a far-flung destination and new Covid variants. It’s a heady mix for many people, who would rather wait and see what will happen.
The island is also experiencing a lack of quality superyachts for charter. Several popular charter yachts previously in Thailand have been sold and shipped elsewhere, and some owners moved their yachts to Europe for easier access.
Marine border closings have made international charters, such as between Phuket and Langkawi, nearly impossible, halting charter activities for many foreign-flagged yachts. The much-heralded 2016 Thai Superyacht Charter Licence, enabling yachts of over 30m to temporarily charter within Thai borders, is not yet operational and sees yachts lingering with pending applications.
Phuket Yacht Haven
Countries like the Maldives and Seychelles have pulled yachts (and tourists) to their shores. It’s much easier to go there, with few requirements beyond showing proof of a negative PCR test on arrival. Easy entry regulations and charter permits for superyachts have swayed many a captain to head for the Maldives and Seychelles rather than Thailand.
From a different perspective, there are more Asian yacht owners. According to SuperYacht Times’ State of Yachting 2021 market report, the number of Asian-owned yachts over 40m has grown steadily, from 91 in early 2016 to 109 at the beginning of 2021. Hopefully this is going to trickle down to result in more charter yachts in Thailand and Southeast Asia.
We need more charter yachts in Phuket as there is still a strong demand. People look at alternative recreational activities away from crowds and a yacht provides a private platform for healthy, Covid-safe activities such as swimming, kayaking and exploration of remote destinations. In-between all the water sports, guests can enjoy five-star service, fantastic meals, spa treatments and luxurious lounging in complete privacy on board.
Phuket and its surrounding islands remain a world-class destination, with outstanding marina and leisure facilities, but best of all, beautiful cruising grounds that are now at their best, with even clearer waters and a resurgence in marine life following the drop in mass tourism over the past couple of years.
What we need urgently are more yachting-friendly immigration and customs rules because, in the meantime, superyachts are going elsewhere.
A Board Member of the Thai Yachting Business Association, Sol has been Retail Charter Broker and Charter Manager for Northrop & Johnson (APAC) since May 2019, having formerly worked for the global brokerage in a different franchise from 2013-2018.
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Charter in Asia 2021: Northrop & Johnson
Northrop & Johnson highlights several superyachts for charter in Asia, from Thailand to Indonesia and the Philippines.