Richard Lofthouse on S.E.A’s ‘big three’ between two ‘hot spots’


As head of Catalano Shipping Services’ Asia-Pacific operations, Richard Lofthouse has witnessed Covid play havoc with the expected superyacht surge for the Tokyo Olympics and America’s Cup, but says Southeast Asia can re-emerge again.



The Maldives is a world-renowned superyacht destination


As I outlined in my presentation in this year’s APSA Grand Tour webinar, the past 12 months have really disrupted the flow of superyachts in our region. Typically, they’d move from the ‘hot spot’ of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean through Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. They’d continue east to the other ‘hot spot’, Tahiti, with stops in PNG, Australia, Fiji and New Zealand along the way.


Before Covid-19 became a global pandemic, myself and my partners around the world were expecting a lot of superyacht traffic to Japan for the now-postponed Olympics and then New Zealand for the 36th America’s Cup, which at least has been held, although without the influx of visitors we anticipated.


There would have been a lot of activity centred around those two major events, but the way it has panned out has changed the dynamics of superyacht activity in Southeast Asia. On the flipside, I think it’s fair to say that Southeast Asia appears to be the market that will emerge most strongly out of all of this. And to a point, I think that’s already starting to happen.


Catalano Shipping Services manages Benoa Marina in Bali


Surprisingly, over the last six months or so and despite a couple of recent changes, Indonesia has generally been about the most straightforward place in the region for yachts to come into – and I don’t think that’s a statement we generally tend to make!


Whether by design or mistake, the Visa process became easy. We were able to apply for Visas and when people arrived, whether by seaport or airport, there was no quarantine if the PCR test was done within seven days. Indonesia has been about ‘the best show in town’ over the last half-year or so and Catalano Shipping Services has been managing a busy marina at Benoa Marina, so we feel lucky to be in that position.


Overall, Indonesia has presented itself well and shown what’s possible, which is a positive way to get the wheels rolling again in the region.


ONE°15 Marina Sentosa Cove is Singapore’s best-known marina


Singapore has never shut and has remained as a key hub throughout, although it has not been an easy time to be an agent there. There have been huge amounts of legislation and regulations that have been a little tricky to navigate. However, Singapore has managed to at least remain open and remain in control of its seaport, which has been positive.


Thailand is just starting to re-emerge, and I know agents there have been bringing boats in again, which is fantastic. Phuket is a key hub for Southeast Asia and the draw card that brings people across the Indian Ocean. As such, it’s key that Thailand begins to re-emerge again as it appears it will. Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia are the ‘Big Three’ draw cards for Southeast Asia and are all showing positive signs.


Southeast Asia is sandwiched between the two ‘hot spots’ of Maldives to the west and Tahiti to the east, which have both pulled in an awful lot of business over the last 12 months. A lot of boats have come to those two areas and some are at the point of wondering what to do next, so Southeast Asia could – and should – have a good influx of boats coming in.


Many superyachts cruising through Asia head east to Tahiti


It’s also worth noting the phenomenal brokerage results, particularly in places like Hong Kong, which has meant there are now a lot more locally owned yachts around the region. There will be a trickle-down effect with some of them, as they begin to push out beyond their current positions.


I think the number of local owners who want to explore the region has increased during this last 12 months, which is incredibly positive. Between them and the international yachts looking for options in this part of the world, I think we can look forward to an upswing for Southeast Asia once the various governments get a strategy together and look at what’s possible.


On this note, it was great to hear the Thai Government announcing its intention to remove the VAT on visiting superyachts wanting to charter, which could give this region a big boost. Having worked a bit in Thailand, I appreciate the easy adaptability of Thai people to situations. They have quickly realised that marine tourism and not mass tourism is the most effective path to recovery, and they will reap the rewards, as will the region.



Lofthouse is Managing Director of Catalano Shipping Services (CSS) Indonesia and Regional Coordinator for CSS’s Asia Pacific network, which has offices in Singapore, Indonesia and New Zealand. Lofthouse has lived and worked around Asia and been based in Bali since 2008, when he established Indonesia’s first superyacht agency.

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