Tell us briefly about the superyacht industry in the UAE. How has it grown and evolved over the years?
Currently, the Middle East accounts for about 12.8 per cent of the world's superyacht fleet, making it the third biggest market after the older markets of North America and Europe. It's also an emerging market, making it a very important for us, as it's where we see the most potential. This is the region where you'll find the largest yachts in the world, especially owned by the Saudis. Ever since Heesen began in the late 70s/early 80s, we've been building and delivering yachts to the UAE. We delivered a few in the mid-90s and a couple in the past decade, but it's the last two years when we've seen a great increase in demand for yachts in the 45-60m range. This is Heesen's core range, so we are focusing our efforts here and we have invested in a valuable partnership with our friends Behnemar, a bespoke luxury yacht consultancy based in Dubai, who are our eyes, ears, and cultural advisors.
How discerning and involved are yacht owners and enthusiasts in the Middle East, when it comes to placing orders for their yachts?
Just as personalities vary, it varies from owner to owner, but typically clients from the UAE are in-the-know and discerning, with clear specifications of what they want for their yacht. Most clients will own multiple boats in a range of sizes and as such are well educated on the subject. Crucially though, when it comes to making sales in the Middle East, long-term relationships built on trust are paramount to success. This is why our strategic partnership with Behnemar has already been very productive. In terms of day to day involvement in the build process, it will vary. Some owners are very present and will be at the shipyard every couple of weeks. Others, only two or three times during the entire duration, which can be up to a three year process for a full custom (totally bespoke) build.
Do you feel that the increasing number of developments in Dubai and the UAE, which feature waterfront living and maritime elements, are responsible for the growing popularity of yachts in the UAE?
It will certainly be a factor. Naturally, the more destinations there are to visit, enjoy and to dock yachts around the region, the greater the appeal is for potential owners to purchase a stunning yacht that they can enjoy and show off. Especially with the bountiful sunshine and consistently good weather that you benefit from (which we don't here in The Netherlands!), it's a pleasure that you can enjoy with family and friends all year round.
It is full steam ahead for the Dubai Harbour project. What are your thoughts on this new iconic development and how will it put Dubai on the map for yacht owners?
It's a very exciting time. We have been watching the project develop and Dubai Harbour is going to be a major asset for the UAE in terms of attracting superyachts to its shores. It will provide more berths and cruise terminals, meaning a greater number of big yachts and tenders can dock there.Â A challenge for the UAE has always been its lack of destinations, not just in terms of nearby islands to travel to, but also easy access to metropolitan centres and cultural hubs. This will certainly change things. We expect it to become a vibrant destination for owners in the region and beyond.
What role has technology played in the boat industry? Do yacht owners want lots of fancy gizmos and tech on their yachts?
Being progressive and adapting to clients' needs is essential in any industry. In terms of technology, Heesen is known for leading the industry. However, rather than fancy gizmos, in true Dutch fashion Heesen focuses on efficiency and economy when it comes to tech. For us this means innovating to create technology that not only increases the performance of your yacht, making it faster, but that reduces the need for fuel thus conserving costs and preserving the environment. In partnership with naval architects Van Oossanen, we are the pioneers of hybrid propulsion (electric and diesel combined), as well as the revolutionary FDHF hull (up to 20 per cent more efficient) and the ultra-efficient Hull Vane, an underwater wing that harnesses the power of the waves and transforms it into forward motion. Next year we'll be launching a fantastic yacht Project Aquamarine, the world's first fast-cruising yacht below 500GT to be IMO Tier III compliant.
Recently, there was a dip in demand in the industry. What are your thoughts on the future outlook globally, and regionally?
Heesen started very well in 2020, even selling one of our speculation yachts, but then Covid-19 hit the industry hard. This was felt across the whole industry, and six months in, it was a difficult time for everyone, but in the past two months it's been picking up and we've seen much more interest. Enquiries and even in-person visits in the past six to seven weeks increased. It's not going to be our best year ever, but I'm pleased to say we have just announced the sale of Project Pollux, one of the new generation of our 55m Steel Class. In terms of the future, we are optimistic. The number of billionaires has increased in 2020, in addition to their total wealth, which is a good indication for us.
Lastly, what are the latest trends in design that are making a splash in the industry?
For Middle East clients, we always look to include as many guest cabins and seating areas as possible, due to large families and the culture of entertaining guests. We also offer Majlis seating arrangements - an opposite type of seating arrangement where people can face each other and look each other in the eye. As you know it is a very traditional seating plan. But in terms of design trends that are hitting the industry more widely, I'd say:
- Eco-design - hybrid technology and fast displacement hulls - more fuel efficient and ecologically friendly with the option for a silent mode
- Sport fishing equipment - chairs installed at the back of the boat
- Greater use of glass and indoor-outdoor spaces - people are looking for winter gardens, beach clubs, swim platforms and any spaces that give them direct access to nature and the ocean
- Special features - nemo rooms where you can see fish underwater, snow rooms, spas and gyms
- Toys and toy carriers - submarines, helicopters, jeeps, jet skis, seabobs, fly boards among more
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