Tommy Ho: Hong Kong shows yachting’s bright future
In a Column for Yacht Style Issue 57, Tommy Ho says Hong Kong proves boating can be one of the great escapes from Covid, as more people spend time with friends and family on the water.
When Covid-19 started to spread around the world, I’ll admit that it didn’t look good for anyone. We had no idea how long it would continue. It has proved challenging for almost all industries across the globe, including yacht insurance due to the huge losses in the markets in the previous years.
And in all honesty, outside of Hong Kong, Asian yachting markets have recently been slow, sometimes due to the restrictions on boating in some countries and sometimes because of the unavailability of yachts or inability for yachts to be shipped to these markets. However, for many living in Hong Kong, yachting proved an escape, a way out of the stress and fear, a way out of the crowds and the urban environment.
Yacht sales in the city increased – a lot – which was unexpected for many, although not us. As people were unable to travel, they needed to find alternatives for their weekends and holidays. Furthermore, some owners started using their boat as a floating office. A yacht was an ideal escape, as it’s a private environment not bound by the virus-fighting regulations imposed by the Government.
As Covid unfolded, we foresaw that the sales of mid-size yachts would increase due to the travel restrictions locally and around the globe. Yacht dealers also became aware of this situation so many of them imported mid-size stock boats (up to about 100ft) around the second quarter of last year, which ensured that the increased demand was converted into sales.
Existing owners used their yachts more often than ever before and for longer periods. Some clients even mentioned they weren’t aware Hong Kong had so many beautiful islands as they explored more of the waters around our city.
There was a knock-on effect. As existing owners used their boats more around Hong Kong, more potential owners were exposed to the fun of having a yacht. As such, I met a lot of new boat owners during this time and assisted them with purchases and the buying process. Often, they decided very quickly, whether it was for a new or brokerage yacht. And inevitably, there were a lot of first-time owners seeking insurance.
Sometimes when I was out at weekends, the sea was so packed with yachts and people water-skiing, wakeboarding, wakesurfing and jet-skiing that it felt more like we were in the busiest parts of Nathan Road!
We frequently focus on arranging insurance for larger yachts, with owners employing full-time captains and crew to operate and look after their boats. Yet because water-skiing and other water toys became so popular, this encouraged an increase in the sales of speedboats and towboats.
Due to the overall increase in demand for boats of all sizes, we noticed many more owners taking powerboat licence courses, which not only allows them to drive their own boat but also take out their speedboat for a ride or take their family and friends water-skiing and so on.
If we look at one of the positives of the pandemic, it has encouraged people to get outdoors and this has been positive for the whole leisure marine industry. Everything on the water is outside, generally in a clean-air environment, with people spread out across large areas. If you wish, you can choose to sail to areas where you won’t see anyone else.
Most water sports are a lot of fun and the entry fee is relatively low. Considering a new car can easily cost about HK$1-2 million (about US$130,000-260,000), a decent speedboat is about this price. However, with a speedboat, families and friends – not just a couple – can enjoy spending time together. It encourages fun and activity in natural surroundings. Also, due to its size, it’s easier to find mooring or storage space compared to larger yachts.
I think that we will have to live with Covid for at least the coming year in one form or another. And I believe the yachting market can keep growing in Hong Kong – and hopefully revive in other parts of Asia – as people seek to buy a boat in the knowledge that they might not be able to travel elsewhere as easily or as frequently as they used to.
With two decades in yacht insurance, Tommy Ho is CEO of Voyager Risk Solutions, which he founded in 2018. A Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club member for over 25 years, Ho is a long-time boat owner, a consultant of the Hong Kong Cruise and Yacht Industry Association, and Chairman of the Hong Kong Ocean Economy Chamber of Commerce.