The one day Quaynote Communications organised Opportunities in Superyachts Conference took place at the Westin Dragonara Resort, Malta, on Thursday 3 April. Superyacht Business, as the media sponsor, was in attendance.
The conference followed the Opportunities in Business Jets Conference, which was held the previous day, meaning delegates arriving early could network with individuals from this business sector to share insight into the spending behaviour of UHNWIs.
On Thursday morning Thierry Voisin kicked off the proceedings with a keynote presentation on how the superyacht industry should engage with the EU to create a more favourable legislative environment. He concluded that following the complications with VAT most owners would take one course out of three options a) The owner will leave yachting b) The owner will use their yacht only privately c) Owners will make their yacht a business and only charter. Voisin suggested that VAT could become less burdensome if the industry switches from rental contracts to transport contracts, but the idea seemed to have drawbacks and was as yet unexplored.
The morning sessions covered the bureaucratic and financial side of yachting. Lisa Verbit, the senior vice-president at Credit Executive Marine Lending at the Bank of America, explained that, for the first time since the recession, banks are becoming more accommodating for clients who wish to borrow against their yachts.
On a panel discussion that asked where the yacht sales of the future would come from Zak Borg, the director of business development and co-founder of the Anchovy Luxury agency, suggested that children influence their parents’ buying decisions more than we might think helping social media and viral campaigns to be powerful. The panel also said they had seen the average age of many superyacht owners decrease dramatically from the mid 60s to owners in their 40s.
In the afternoon, Stephen Hills of Pendennis talked about the value in refitting a yacht as opposed to starting a project from scratch. He said decisions about refit are based on financial value, time and design factors. He illustrated how dramatically a yacht can be changed with slides showing yacht profiles. Pierre Balzan of Melita Marine asked whether there are enough yards to cater for the larger yachts. He explained that his staff are involved in continued training programmes and his investment in a new floating lift will significantly improve capacity for large yacht refit at Melita Marine.
Another panel discussion, based around design and innovation, lead James Roy, the yacht design director at BMT Nigel Gee to ask “Is the industry slow to adopt innovation?”. Ken Hickling, president of the ISS and business development manager at Awlgrip, suggested that shipyards are unwilling to engage in dramatic innovation as they carry the most risk in the development of a yacht. Krystyna Wojnarowicz, co-founder at Marsec-XL, suggested the superyacht industry should look at Offshore Support Vessels as a point of reference as they are built quickly, to a very high spec, and are full of innovation.
One of the most engaging speeches of the conference came from Nick Saul, owner and CEO of Bachmann HR Group. He talked about the impact of the MLC eight months on and told the audience, “The ILO has created a battalion of inspectors who have been training for the last 18 months. The MLC will be policed.” As a result of the MLC, Saul told the audience, more crew than ever have been offered employee benefits such as medical care and pensions. But Saul explained that he was stunned to learn that there are still yacht managers in the industry who apparently don’t know what the MLC is. He revealed that there is more regulation on the horizon which will concentrate on the ship owner’s responsibility – to be revealed after the meeting of the Special Tripartite Committee from 7 to 11 April.
After the day of seminars and panel discussions the delegates were transported to the sumptuous Palazzo de Piro in Mdina for cocktails and canapés. The evening presented an excellent opportunity for networking for both the business jet and superyacht community in the classic surroundings of the medieval walled town.