Can Asia’s marina scene ever match the money?

Marina development in Southeast Asia may get a boost in the post-Covid world, as regional governments try to woo yachts and their owners to remake tourism industries shattered by ongoing lockdowns

author icon By Ryan Swift | 25 March 2021

Despite a recent boost, Asia’s marina facilities still fall behind their Western counterparts

Asia has as many millionaires and billionaires as North America and Europe. Yet, the number of marinas dotting Asia’s often-incredible coastlines is minuscule compared to the United States or Europe.

A 2020 survey of the US market found over 10,000 “marina businesses” in the US. Poland, with a coastline of just over 1,000 kilometres, boasts almost as many marinas or boat clubs as the Philippines, which has over 30,000 kilometres of coastline, innumerable island destinations and unmatched coastal scenery.

Can Asia ever catch up to the rest of the world in terms of marina capacity? Most industry insiders agree that infrastructure is a critical component to unlocking the region’s potential for boaters. It makes the prospect of owning a yacht easier while making destinations available to yacht owners.

In the wake of Covid-19 and the decimation of the regional tourism industry, there has been speculation that governments in Southeast Asia will be keen to re-orient their tourism strategies towards high-end visitors, such as yacht owners. 

There are plenty of incentives for adding marinas to a beautiful coastline.

Traditionally, property developers have looked at marinas as ways to boost the value of their waterfront properties. Christophe Saune of Poralu Marine estimates that a successful marina can add as much as 20% in value to an adjacent property development. It is a generalised and global figure, but it does show why developers in Asia, hoping to boost their bottom lines, are attracted to images of luxury yachts near their apartment towers.

The region’s best marinas have traditionally been in Hong Kong (above) Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand

A 2021 report by data firm Wealth-X has found that the onset of Covid-19 has caused wealthy property buyers to seek out getaway homes. “The pandemic has set up the best market for second and even third homes in the luxury real estate market. Regardless of how amazing their main residence is, this group of wealthy individuals is used to travel and it’s hard for them to stay put,” the report said.

That, combined with the boost in yacht sales in the second half of 2020, may make marina development more interesting than ever. Paul Lane, managing director of International Waterfront Consultants (IWC), says that Asia has been quiet for the past year, but since the beginning of 2021, he has noted an increase in inquiries for his services. 

Lane also says that hotels and resorts with a significant marina have been able to weather downturns better than those without, as marinas help offset losses that can occur in unexpected downturns. No matter what is happening in the world, yacht owners need to park their yachts.

The problem is the lack of commitment, according to Saune, who says that a property developer may lose interest in running the marina after everything is sold off. The result can be less of a lifestyle attraction than a reminder of a failed promise. 

Taipei has enormous potential for yachting

China experienced a boom in marinas in the aughts and early 2010s, only to see the promise of a large yachting market disappear with the anti-corruption campaign of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Though some industry insiders say that small marinas on Chinese lakes offer better examples of marina development that is successful.

The recent flurry of news around a relaxation of taxes and restrictions on yacht ownership in Hainan has spurred interest by the industry, but according to Godfrey Zwygart, former marina manager for Serenity Marina in Sanya, says that most marina projects in China are on hold. But the Sanya Central Business District Administration is behind a new plan to rebuild Sanya’s old Central Harbour, turning it into a marina district.

The Taiwan government plans to convert Taiwan’s old fishing harbours, which dot the spectacular coastline, into leisure facilities that accept yachts

The region’s most successful marinas are to be found in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, where there is a significant market for yachts and until Covid-19’s spread, plenty of visitors.

The key to opening Asia may lie in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, where the Saudi government plans to open up the west coast of the Arabian Peninsula. In 2018, The Red Sea Development Corporation was established by the government to oversee the transformation of the Red Sea coast into an eco-friendly tourism destination.

The popularity of cruising grounds such as Ha Long in Vietnam is presenting the case for better marina infrastructure

Lane says that Saudi developers and officials plan to pull more superyachts from the Mediterranean into the Red Sea. The projects being discussed are “beyond belief, quite staggering”, according to Lane, who is now based out of Dubai. 

If the Saudi plan works, that could lead to more superyachts taking the next step on the journey to Asia by heading to the Maldives, where marina activity is apparently heating up.

The Maldives, located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, is actively courting visiting yachts and superyachts. Poralu has completed one marina project in the Maldives and has another on the go. Saune says that, like Taiwan, the Maldives’ government has a framework for developers that includes the use of a whole island for guaranteed investment levels.

Ekrem Reyhancioglu, director of Asia-Pacific for Poralu, says that in just the past two months, Poralu has received two more requests to help get projects going in the Maldives. 

To travel from the Mediterranean to Asia and then to Australia, superyachts need fuel, maintenance and crew services – most of which are unavailable in the region’s marinas. Superyachts can find other ways, often in commercial ports.

But the string of glittering, full-service marinas that are needed to really draw the Med’s superyacht fleet out to the Indian Ocean or across the Pacific, will take years of development. 

Reyhancioglu says that the market for Poralu’s services is shifting from North Asia – where the yachts are purchased – to Southeast Asia, where yacht owners want to visit.

 

ASIA’S NEW HOTSPOTS 

VIETNAM 

Vietnam has become the latest Southeast Asian nation to lay claim to the “Tiger” title, with rapid growth and a booming middle and upper class. Yacht ownership may follow. What is missing are decent marina berths.

The newly minted ANA Marina has yet to properly open, according to its former general manager, Michael Aumock. The genial American is now partnered with Haiphong-born Andrew Nguyen on a new company, the Halong Bay Company, dedicated to marina building in Vietnam. Aumock says he is now consulting on four projects in Vietnam and plans to open a tiny 15-berth marina in Ha Long Bay, the famed coastal area and UNESCO heritage site. 

Ana Marina, Nha Trang

According to Aumock, Vietnam is just beginning its yachting journey. Building a giant marina with a yacht club would be doomed to fail. “I doubt I could get 20 yachts to fill up a marina,” Aumock says. Instead, he hopes his new marina will offer simple bare-bones service to appeal to visiting yacht owners, likely from Hong Kong. “Water, power, cold beer and burgers” is his mantra.

Reyhancioglu and Saune say that while countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines are not restricted in the building of new marinas, there is no framework set down by the government to ensure the success of a project.

Ana Marina is an enormous investment with a huge, dedicated breakwater and pontoons for up to 220 boats. The marina basin is certainly big enough to add many more.

Meanwhile, New Design Architecture, a Sino-French business dealing in marina and waterfront design, set up an office in Ho Chi Minh City in 2015 to capture business opportunities there and in Southeast Asia. NDA worked on several projects in China.

TAIWAN 

Industry officials all agree that Taiwan has enormous potential for yachting. Uniquely, Taiwan has an enormous yacht building pedigree combined with a large high-net-worth population. 

According to Saune, Taiwan has a proper framework around marina development laid down by government officials, with incentives working in tandem with investments in marina infrastructure. He says that the Taiwan government plans to convert Taiwan’s old fishing harbours, which dot the spectacular coastline, into leisure facilities that accept yachts.

The Kaohsiung City government has set up a marina bureau to oversee development of the city’s waterfront, traditionally a large container port serving the island’s enormous manufacturing capacity. In 2018, Taiwan’s government set up the Ocean Affairs Council, designed to integrate oceanic industry and planning. 

Taiwan is in the process of developing 11 new marinas, according to Virginia Chuang of Kha Shing Enterprises, who reported the figures at last September’s Asia Boating Dialogue. Chuang said Kha Shing, one of Taiwan’s original yacht builders, was also considering investment in marina infrastructure. Kha Shing also operates a marina called the Pier 22 project.

Though Taiwan is home to over 1100 yachts, there are less than 800 berthing spaces. Chuang said that domestic agencies, such as the Taiwan Coast Guard, are still generally suspicious of the yachting industry. 

Horizon City Marina, in downtown Kaohsiung

The best-known of Taiwan’s many yacht builders, Horizon, developed its own marina concept, with the thought of using the marina as a place for its greater China customers to base their yachts. Horizon City Marina accommodates yachts up to 60 metres and is located near their main shipyard.

Poralu is currently working on an expansion plan for Argo Yacht Club in Tainan, which will see its berthing spaces double to 220 berths. 

In an article published in December last year, Sir Keith Mills, founder of Origin Sports and the deputy chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, suggested that Taiwan would be a great place for international sailing. He noted the island’s scenery and natural harbours, adding that it could host the America’s Cup one day. 

INDONESIA 

It can be no accident that Ekrem Reyhancioglu, director for Asia-Pacific Poralu, is based in Bali. Indonesia is famed for its far-flung islands, coral reefs, beautiful beaches, amazing wildlife and cruising potential. Superyachts have made the journey from the Med to cruise Indonesia, but the numbers are vanishingly small compared to the global superyacht fleet.

“It is staggering that a decent marina facility for the local and international market has not appeared in Bali,” says Paul Lane. “It is mind-blowing.” 

Indonesia is still a complex country when it comes to authorisations, but there is a willingness. You have to have connections and it takes time – Ekrem Reyhancioglu, Poralu Marine

That said, local superyacht agency operators have been working for years to create a base for visiting superyachts in Bali. The focus is Benoa harbour, one of two port facilities on Bali, the main focus of tourism in Indonesia.

Indo Yacht Support, a superyacht agency led by former yacht captains and based out of Bali, has established a pier for superyacht support at Mertasari Harbour Point, at the southeast corner of Bali island. A little further south in Benoa harbour, there is the Benoa marina, currently managed by Catalano Shipping Services. A set of piers of tucked into a commercial area provides sheltered space for a few yachts up to 85 metres.

Benoa Marina

“We are noting a significant uptick in the desire to incorporate marine aspects into tourism and that, of course, means more developed infrastructure. Pairing them with land developments is a great way to increase value, maximize space and provide an integrated experience to guests,” said Catalano Shipping Indonesia MD Richard Lofthouse in a statement.

Reyhancioglu points to the Ten New Balis project as a sign that the Indonesian government is getting serious about including marine leisure into its strategy. The project, announced in 2016 to boost tourism and reduce pressure on Bali’s stretched capacity, involves spending US$20 billion on ten new destinations to rival Bali.

The ten destinations are: Borobudur Temple (Central Java), Belitung (Sumatra), Mount Bromo (East Java), Labuan Bajo (East Nusa Tenggara), Lake Toba (North Sumatra), Thousand Islands (Jakarta), Mandalika (West Nusa Tenggara), Wakatobi (Southeast Sulawesi), Tanjung Lesung (Banten), and Morotai (North Maluku). Of the ten, seven are sea or coastal based attractions. 

 

Covid-19 may have put these developments on hold, but Reyhancioglu suggests that the Indonesian government now has the incentive to push marina developments as part of a broader tourism rejuvenation programme. In November 2020, the Indonesian government announced that yachts purchased for tourism businesses would be exempt from the 75% luxury goods sales tax. 

The challenge is getting local property developers to embrace marinas as part of a development plan.

“Indonesia is still a complex country when it comes to authorisations, but there is a willingness. You have to have connections and it takes time,” says Reyhancioglu. Paul Lane reckons that the lack of new marina projects by private developers may simply be because Indonesian property developers are waiting for someone else to move first before developing marinas on their own. 

Cilian Budarlaigh of Indo Yacht Support counts six small marinas dotting Indonesia, most of which consist of a clubhouse, a few pontoons and an anchorage. A marina is planned for Labuan Bajo in Flores, which is the gateway to cruising Komodo Island. Budarlaigh says that marina developments have been proposed in Riau, Belitung, West Java (near legendary volcanic island Krakatoa), North Bali, Lombok, Flores, Selayar, Wakatobi and Sorong in West Papua.

“The government has refocused maritime tourism efforts to include foreign and domestic yacht industry as a ‘new normal’ post-Covid priority,” Budarlaigh says.