Founded in 1873, Benetti is the oldest Italian shipyard specialising in luxury yachts. It’s an icon of timeless Italian style and excellence in construction and craftsmanship: traits being sought out by the new generation of super-wealthy, ocean-faring Asian clientele.
Benetti designs, builds and sells vessels – every yacht being unique and developed around its owner – from 29 to more than 100 meters, constructed in Livorno, Italy. They entered the Asian market in 2010, operating out of Hong Kong where their ‘Dedicato’ is also based; a 5-year yacht management programme for ongoing after-care. We spoke to Peter Mahony, GM of Benetti Yachts Asia, at the recent Singapore Yacht Show – where they won the award for Best Custom Built Yacht – to find out about the new tastes and preferences of Chinese billionaires.
What are your strategies for accessing and speaking to the UHNWI target customer?
As our target consumers are the ultra-wealthy, this is a good question but difficult to answer. As any relevant business would find, it’s far from simple to connect with the ultra-wealthy segment because billionaires receive many invitations, contacts and the like, every single day.
We benefit from a heritage and quality that gives strong word-of-mouth from existing clients to their own network. Aside this, we take part in events such as the Singapore Yacht Show as well as specific broker events. These are arranged with ‘yacht brokers’, which many may not have heard of but are specialists in yacht sales. Successful events are focused around the Captain, partly because they deal with boats every day and so are very in-the-know, and also as they give potential buyers a feel of ocean-going expertise and prestige.
In our industry, potential customers can rarely see an ‘example of a finished product’, as of course yacht owners are generally very private and wouldn’t want their own yacht to be used in this way! As well as targeted media, we try to be more creative, such as involvement with Design Shanghai to spread our reach. We also work with different partners such as private jets, private brands and fine jewellery brands that are hoping to connect with the same audience, and each leverage our own networks.
What are some of the design requirements of customers in Asia compared to the rest of the world?
Asian consumers use their boats in distinct ways. For example, they prefer to use it less for exploring distant waters and instead opt for short excursions, like island-hopping nearby, which means that often bedroom space is less important than entertaining space.
An Asian-owned yacht is likely to have a variety of culturally-relevant features, such as customised round tables and rooms for majhong or karaoke. Also, sunbathing is less popular so there’s more indoor, cooler space and less open-air space for laying outside directly in the sun. Interestingly there are other very specific tastes – such as the Asian market prefers a vertical bow.
With the target Chinese consumer less mature than the yachting demographic in the West, how do they see yachts as a concept?
Chinese consumers are generally more business oriented, and so they purpose the yacht for business needs, which is evident in the design. But, more and more Chinese consumers are actually getting personally interested in yachting. One of the Chinese owners in Hong Kong loves diving and so the yacht has been customised to accommodate dive expeditions.
We see that the use is changing and is becoming not simply a token but about the real status of yachting and an outdoors, adventurous lifestyle. It also has to be said that the Chinese consumers generally prefer bigger yachts – every year the yachts are getting bigger and bigger!
Another development is that under the Belt and Road initiative, the Chinese government has been rolling out an updated marine tourism strategy. This includes broad moves such as hosting the strategic summit for yachting, marine infrastructure and tourism in Hainan. All of these state-approved initiatives, along with the rapidly growing affluence and enormous demand for luxury travel, mean we are positive in seeing growth in China’s superyacht market.
How much do your customers in China care about the heritage, history and people of your brand, versus the ‘product’ itself?
Chinese consumers do look at brands and respect a brand’s heritage and good reputation. If it’s known to be a reputable brand they will have the feeling of security when entering a new type of purchase or new type of lifestyle; which is how we’ve seen success in the market because of our and trusted long heritage. This need to give security is another reason why we participate in various marketing events and have an official WeChat account, as not only for outreaching communications but all part of demontrating our history and long-standing reputation in the industry.
Since entering the market in China and Asia, what have been some key learnings for yourself and yourselves as a company?
You always need to listen to the customer – you can’t, as an industry, hope to tell customers in a relatively new region ‘this is simply how it is’, but rather you must listen and be willing to adapt. An additional indoor lounge space or bigger kitchen might seem wildly inappropriate for one owner but absolutely necessary for someone using the yacht for business. Benetti offers customised yachts without ever losing sight of our primary goal of satisfying owners. This is especially key in Asia, when a request might seem unusual, or something that ‘hasn’t been done before’ – yet you need to listen to clients.
You need to be able to accept constant challenges and be willing to react as the market evolves – in our case, the construction of a custom yacht may take years, yet during this time we are still available if the needs of the owner change, which does happen.
Also, more and more we have found that the Chinese government, especially in Hainan to be very supportive with regards to promotion and help with the education of local regulations. It’s clear they are making a concerted push to build the image of the area as a yacht haven.