Sailing the high seas
On the cusp of this year’s Singapore Yacht Show, executive director of Hong Seh Marine, Edward Tan, is upbeat. His multi-brand distributorship will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year, and having recently divested itself of most of its automotive interests, has its eye firmly set on the luxury pleasure craft sector.
Is it a big jump to go from cars to luxury yachts?
From a business point of view, it’s progression. At Hong Seh Marine, We were already dealing in luxury items, so where do you go from there? And we decided to go into yachts, beginning with Riva, which has a partnership with Ferrari. The branding, price position and lifestyle is already something we’re accustomed to, and so is our clientele.
How did it all start?
Ten years ago, I met the Riva people at the (Singapore) Yacht Show and we started talking about how we could work together. We wanted to help build the brand and the industry, because at that point in time, yachting in Singapore wasn’t there at all.
It’s been a decade, would you say yachting has arrived in the region?
I wouldn’t say it’s gotten there yet, but it’s beginning to pick up. We’ve got a good five years to go yet. It’s not just about having marinas, it’s about a complete lifestyle with food, entertainment, ship chandlering for people to want to travel by yacht.
Why do you think it’s taken so long?
In Asia, it’s always been about sailboats, not motoryachts, which cater mostly to non-locals, and there are other reasons, too. For example, when Hong Seh Marine sells a boat, it doesn’t stop there. We tell our customers that a (pleasure craft) licence isn’t required because we can supply captains. You could qualify for a licence, and we could help you make the arrangements, but there’s really no need. We have captains, crew and maintenance services available, so you don’t have to worry about anything. We give you a menu to pick the services you need. We even go the extra mile and tell you where and when to go.
Do you think these extensive services are important in helping build up a culture of boating in the region?
This is the sort of customer service culture which we were brought up to believe in. When we started in yachts, we had to learn everything ourselves and had our own little mishaps along the way with our own boats. We got our boats stuck on a reef, getting stranded because we forgot to check the condition of the boat’s battery. So, we can say we’ve been there, done that and we did it on our own.
About those customers you mentioned, how many of them are new to yachting?
Around three-quarters of them are new.
And why is that?
They’re getting bored! What else is there to do in Singapore? You can find the latest restaurant or buy the latest car, but with taxes the way they are for the latter, people are asking why they should get one here when they could get it for cheaper in England or Germany where they could have a holiday home to go with it. For yachts, you pay seven per cent GST and that’s it, and it’s tradable anywhere in the world, and without the constraints of a 10-year COE.
Surely buying a yacht isn’t just about dollars-and-cents decisions?
We promote yachting as a way for customers to bond with their friends and family. We’re glued to our mobile phones and social media all the time. On a boat, you can play with your phone all you want, but you don’t have a signal. It allows you to develop what some people call the long lost art of conversation.