BY Andrew Dembina on 19 Apr 2022

What’s hot on the water in Hong Kong? The specialist department heads at Simpson Marine tell us what their clients are looking for when they head out from the dock

Following a bumper year for the yachting industry worldwide, one of Asia’s most successful yacht brokerages, Simpson Marine, recently announced that 2021 broke records for yacht sales, quite a feat considering the company was founded in 1984.

The company offers additional services including charter, yacht care, parts, toys and after-sales, and it now operates in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, mainland China and Taiwan. Apart from yacht sales, the company says it has enjoyed substantial growth in all its business areas. Below, Asia-Pacific Boating gets the company’s take on what’s happening in Hong Kong but also with some regional reflections – from department heads of its tenders and marine toys, yacht management and yacht charter divisions.

About half of Hong Kong charter clients arrange their own catering

Yacht Management and Concierge Service

“Mainland Chinese residents account for at least 60 per cent of our yacht management clients in Hong Kong,” says Reanna Wang, who has headed Simpson Marine charters division and yacht management for more than six years and is based in Hong Kong. “They are often around 35 to 50 years old, active and into an outdoor lifestyle, who want to enjoy yachting with peace of mind from totally professional assistance. The rest of our Hong Kong yacht management owners are local residents, mostly first-(time) yacht owners who appreciate our assistance in making their experience at sea seamless. They let us handle all operational aspects, starting from professional and often experienced crew recruitment, which is a challenge of its own to secure today.”

Simpson Marine undertakes solely comprehensive management services with full-time crew, she adds. “We provide crew recruitment, captain training for each newly arrived yacht and also from time to time help with interior setup, food and beverage training, regular financial reports to the owner, service checks – generally overseeing the entire operation of the yacht – occasionally collaborating with the company’s water-toys division when owners want these aboard.”

Reanna Wang heads the yacht charter and management divisions

As opposed to complete management, the most requested concierge service that Wang’s Hong Kong team handles are for catering or private chef arrangements; festival, ceremony or party arrangements – including beach parties; water-toy setups; and on-water or hiking itineraries that explore new locations. During the Covid-19 period, some occasional requests for fast boat relocations have been a challenge.

“Moving across different regions – such as Sanya [Hainan Island], Shenzhen, Macau, Hong Kong [and others locations in greater China] is, of course, challenging in terms of logistics and regulations that have been set up to prevent the pandemic,” she admits. Looking ahead, Wang forecasts for the rest of 2022, and possibly beyond, that owners of “larger yachts – over 30m – will be requesting full management setups,” as owners are using their boats more and want to enjoy easy and carefree yachting, taking on fewer onboard duties and responsibilities themselves.

Tenders and Marine Toys

“We are seeing an increase in demand for electric toys such as Fliteboard e-foils, Awake electric surfboards and Seabobs [marine ‘scooters’],” says Holly Buchanan, Highfield and water toys sales administrator at Simpson Marine. “These products utilise cutting-edge technology, and the fun and the thrill they provide are evident. “The classic stand-up paddleboards, inflatables and floating mats are always a hit. Across the board, in the Southeast Asia region, we have seen a large increase in popularity in most water toys and sports products.”

I see electric toys rising in popularity as people look for a new challenge and thrill. These are fun to learn and then use wherever you go with your boat – Holly Buchanan

Holly Buchanan, Highfield and water toys sales admin

She adds that increased interest in Highfield tenders “shows the demand for an inexpensive entry to boating that has grown since the beginning of the pandemic. Simpson Marine’s Highfield range of RIBs (rigid inflatable boats) spans two to nine metres, making them useful from “taxiing to and from a mother yacht up to being a day boat to enjoy with family and friends,” Buchanan says.

Currently, all these products are for sale only, but Simpson Marine is looking to start a rental service in the future, as some of them are pretty pricey. As demand for charter boats remains high, the company is considering offering water toys to these clients. Buchanan says she sees Highfield tenders continuing to expand in 2022 as people continue to explore the option of recreational boating, while their holidays abroad remain infrequent. “Additionally, I see electric toys rising in popularity as people look for a new challenge and thrill. These are fun to learn and then continue to use wherever you go with your boat.”

Yacht Charter

To get a perspective on demand and client demographics in the region, both May Choi – Simpson Yacht Charter, Hong Kong manager – and Reanna Wang – Simpson Yacht Charter, group charter and yacht management manager, told Asia-Pacific Boating their observations of the past few years.

“Before the pandemic, Hong Kong only offered day charters as standard operations, but as an inability to travel came about, we noticed a high demand for overnight ‘sea-cation’ charters,” says Choi. “Overnight clients are mostly western families with kids; those who already have boating and chartering experience abroad. Day charter clients are a wider mix of residents. “In general, in Hong Kong we notice that China-built western-style cruiser yachts are quite popular as they represent an attractive price-to-quality ratio. At Simpson Yacht Charter, there are two popular tendencies: chartering one of our many new 40ft (12.2m) or larger Lagoon catamarans, or our bespoke Sanlorenzo motoryachts of 76-78ft (23-24-m), and larger for some other brands.

May Choi, Simpson Yacht Charter’s Hong Kong manager

“As for entertainment – we often receive requests for live music, a DJ or often karaoke for Chinese clients.” Wang mentions that recently across Greater China and Southeast Asia, “high-end clients tend to make long-lease or repeat bookings of their preferred boats.” Client ages start from as young as 25, she adds, noting that overnight charter clients follow the profile that Choi explained for Hong Kong, with large, top-quality yachts more often requested. “About 30 per cent of Phuket charters are overnight ones,” Wang adds, “and when that’s the case, an onboard private chef is often requested. Charter prices may include a picnic lunch or fruit platters, such as in Thailand. In Hong Kong, such items are “add-ons”.

Choi says that in Hong Kong, about half of charters bring their own food and drinks. But for the other half, there is no limit, including private chefs. “We receive requests for live cooking, quite sophisticated beach picnics, yacht décor themes, live music, boat raft parties,” Choi says. Reflecting on the buzz of Hong Kong charter operations in the past few years, Choi says that if the territory’s recent domestic and travel regulations remain in place, “we expect our charter enquiries to keep on increasing, as it’s the closest activity to freedom and travel that our clients miss.”