With a class of millionaires predicted to exceed 20 million by the mid-2020s and an average of two new billionaires coming online each month, on the surface China would appear ideally suited to become a leading superyacht market. However, poor infrastructure, a lack of marinas, challenging tax laws and a culture unfamiliar with seafaring for leisure mean the industry has failed to take off with much speed. One new digital lifestyle show is hoping to change that.
House Films, the company behind the first Chinese reality show in the US ‘Quest USA’, has been working on a new show called ‘Yacht Life, Love the Ocean’ which aims to introduce luxury yachting to China’s upscale and high net worth viewers who have previously followed their content about food, wine and luxury lifestyle. The show will also highlight the importance of preserving the ocean ecosystem, which is currently not widely documented or readily understood by the Chinese people.
Due to launch in the middle of November, the first three episodes have already been filmed in Thailand, shot on location at the Royal Phuket Marina with host Sarah Zhang, who boasts 1.5 million followers in China and who Ric Dilanni, Executive Producer at House Films, believes to be the perfect woman for the job.
Sarah Zhang and Gulu Lalvani, Chairman of the Royal Phuket Marina
“In the eyes of our viewers, Sarah represents the typical Chinese woman with the same tastes, so we saw her as the perfect person to host the show,” said Ric during an interview with Yachting International Radio this week with guest host Rebecca Whitlocke. “She has a lot of the same concerns as your typical Chinese woman – she doesn’t want to get sun burnt or seasick, and she’s worried about drowning. This is how Chinese people perceive yachting, so we wanted to put somebody like them as the host so they could see how she handles it.”
The first episode highlights local fashion and jewelry with Thai fashionista and Laila Jewelry Co-founder Maya Goldman; the second looks at ocean preservation in an interview with top wildlife documentary filmmaker, diver and co-founder of Thai-based NGO Oceans For All, David Martin; and the third focuses on luxury marina living, centered around the Royal Phuket Marina with an up-close and personal interview with legendary yachting entrepreneur Gulu Lalvani, Chairman of the Royal Phuket Marina.
Sustainability is not regularly talked about in China but Ric believes this to be one of the most important topics of all. “Through Oceans For All, Yacht Life will highlight ocean preservation, and we want this to be an ongoing theme and talk to a lot of different organisations about it as well. Be it over-fishing or plastic pollution, a lot of Chinese people aren’t aware of these issues but once they realise its importance, things will move really quickly, so having them involved in preservation is going to be a big help globally to everyone.”
Sarah and David Martin, Co-founder of Thai-based NGO Oceans For All
During the interview, Rebecca and Ric discuss the issues that face China in its journey to becoming a world superyacht destination, including poor infrastructure, lack of marinas and the challenging tax laws that inhibit progress. And while there’s hope that the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative – the Chinese Government’s global development strategy involving infrastructure and investments in 152 countries across Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas - will help to develop marine tourism, Ric believes his new show will also play a big part in moving the industry forward.
“We have been contacted by a number of members from the Chinese boating community and we haven’t even put the series out yet,” he said. “The infrastructure isn’t world class yet, but China does have an amazing ability to move quickly. And we aren’t necessarily promoting yachting in China – we’re promoting yachting to the Chinese people and seeing them chartering in other parts of the world will then motivate Chinese investment companies and local governments to want a piece of the action. I think you will then see major movement, with marinas being fast-tracked and that sort of thing.”
It’s for this reason that the first three episodes were filmed in Thailand rather than China itself. “We wanted to go somewhere where yachting was more developed as a culture, somewhere more beautiful,” he told Rebecca. “In China, most marinas and boats are not well-kept or well-maintained – it’s not a very luxury experience, so we wanted to go to an area of the world where we could show yachting done the right way. The Royal Phuket Marina was very open to it and we felt they would be great partners.”
Sarah and Maya Goldman, Laila Jewelry Co-founder
So what’s in store for the future of Chinese yachting? “Yachting is very well suited to the way Chinese people travel – with close friends, their families and parents, so they can have everyone together in one place. If they get tired of the local food, they have provisions on board. You can bring a little bit of China with you,” he explains.
“While there is a segment of people in China who are knowledgeable about yachting, it is very small. Yet it’s a country that has two new billionaires coming online every month on average, so there are a lot of people who could be enjoying yachting. We believe it will start with increases in charter, and then go towards yacht purchases eventually.”
"The yachting industry in China is one that many professionals, including myself, have been watching closely for years," comments Rebecca Whitlocke. "The launch of House Films' series 'Yacht Life, Love the Ocean' is a positive initiative that will grow interest in yachting lifestyle, as well as introduce elements such as the importance of ocean conservation to a Chinese audience. I'm looking forward to a fresh marketing approach from the series, and watching Presenter/Host Sarah Zhang throughout the episodes who is highly regarded in China."
The first episode of the Yacht Life show is scheduled to be online mid-November, with videos available on Youku, iQiyi, Sohu and other video platforms in China.