Based in Singapore, Jean-Marc Poullet has lived in Asia since 1993. He was appointed Chairman Asia for Burgess in 2015 after retiring as senior partner of the business advisory firm McKinsey & Company. An experienced yachtsman, he has cruised extensively in Southeast Asia aboard his own 33-metre motor yacht, Nymphaea, which he also offers for charter. Burgess set up its Asian operations to serve and develop the region’s emerging superyacht market. The initiative appears to be paying off and in 2018 Burgess enjoyed its most successful year to date with four yacht transactions of which three were above 50 metres, and multiple charters booked by Asian clients on various yachts globally. Its Charter Central Agency fleet available in Asia this winter season comprised five yachts, including 73-metre Titania, 68-metre Lady E, 54-metre Talisman Maiton, and 50-metre Mysky and Sky.
SuperYacht Times recently caught up with Jean-Marc in Thailand, where Burgess is partnering with the Anantara Layan Resort in Phuket to organise Phuket familiarisation trips that combine a short yacht charter with a few days at the exclusive resort.Photo: Justin Ratcliffe The Asian superyacht market has massive potential but has been slow to develop. Is that changing?
Asia is still at the very beginning of discovering yachting. But what is interesting to observe is that most Asians seem to love it after they’ve tried it, and indeed one of the yacht purchases we had last year was to an Asian charter client who then decided to buy a boat right after the charter. We also had a mainland Chinese charter client here in Thailand who shared his experience on WeChat with his friends; he was so enthused that by the end of his stay on board we had had another charter enquiry from one of his friends. So when Asians actually experience yachting they realise very quickly what it’s all about and are generally enthusiastic.Photo: Justin Ratcliffe
Is the fact that Asians are generally unfamiliar with the yachting culture a barrier to growth?
I really don’t think it’s a cultural problem; there’s no natural barrier to yachting, but there is a lack of awareness and exposure. I’ve observed several factors that are promising for the future growth of this business and contradict the misconception that Asians don’t like the sea. Firstly, when you look at big Asian families and the kind of vacations they enjoy, cruise ships figure strongly and it is not uncommon for wealthy people to host 20 or 30 family members and friends on a cruise ship. Secondly, many Asians love diving and fishing and when you look at the history of Asian yacht owners you see they often started yachting because they wanted to pursue these hobbies. The yachts got bigger as some became wealthier, but diving and fishing remain passions of theirs and key activities when on board. Thirdly, mainland Chinese especially like to visit pristine, unpolluted areas on vacation, which is why Phuket or the Maldives is becoming so popular with Chinese tourists. Photo: Justin Ratcliffe With this in mind, yachting is the perfect way to combine all three: family and friends, diving and fishing, and pristine destinations. So it’s not so much about educating the Asian market as just encouraging them to experience the yachting lifestyle once or twice to realise what a wonderful experience it can be.Photo: Justin Ratcliffe How do you convince potential clients to make that first step?
So far, it has been all about the long road of meeting customers one by one and progressively encouraging them to try it for the first time and telling their friends about it, and so on. Phuket is at the epicentre of the solution because it’s in the middle of some fabulous cruising grounds from Langkawi all the way up to Myanmar and offers world-class accommodation, entertainment, golf courses, spas and restaurants. It is easily reached by air from throughout Asia with no jet lag, it is culturally fully Asian, and Chinese visitors don’t require a visa. Photo: Justin Ratcliffe But until you get a person, any person, on a yacht to experience it, it’s very hard to communicate what it’s all about and no amount of generic marketing can make up for that first-hand experience. In that regard, our challenge is that Asia is huge, complex and highly diverse while the yachting industry is comparatively small and fragmented. So here in Asia we’re trying to collaborate more with other yachting firms and explore what we can do together, but also creating Affinity Partnerships with like-minded, high-quality luxury brands such as Anantara and MJets here in Thailand, and others across Asia, to help spread the yachting word to their customers. They can help us to create the awareness, but then it’s up to us to provide a fantastic experience for our charter clients on the water. Photo: Justin Ratcliffe Photo: Justin Ratcliffe Any predictions when the Asian superyacht market might truly take off?
I am very sure that it will become a large market when all the ingredients are there to make it happen. However, because of the factors that we discussed above, it will still take time before self-generated demand will really accelerate growth – maybe 10 years. So patience, persistence and a willingness to invest in the long-term are key.Photo: Justin Ratcliffe