By Staff writer
The Gulf boasts warm weather year-round, plenty of coastline, and some very wealthy residents and visitors, so what is stopping the region from becoming a world-class luxury yachting destination?
Despite the near ideal conditions for year-round yachting provided by the inviting waters and pleasant climate of the Arabian Gulf, the regionâ€™s yachting industry is still in its infancy.
A handful of marinas in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Lebanon, Oman and Dubai have set the scene for a fruitful market to evolve, but the current limitations on the number of berths available, and the general lack of yachting infrastructure has prevented this evolution from taking place up until now.
However, with major developers laying the foundations for scores of waterfront developments, yacht companies are flocking to the region, and the marine industry looks set to take off.
One company that has made its move is DuSail, which set-up-shop in Dubai in August 2003 after managing director, Debbie Kirkwood identified a gap in the market for high quality chartering services.
â€œThere arenâ€™t that many charter companies out there; we saw the opportunity to set up a quality operation,â€ she explains.
â€œSince then we have seen huge growth, both in private and corporate chartering.
â€œItâ€™s been a great year; I think there is a lot more to see around Dubai these days.
With all the new developments, like the Palm projects and The World, people are taking the opportunity to get up close to them and see whatâ€™s going on,â€ says Kirkwood.
Like Dubaiâ€™s hotels, DuSail is benefiting from the growing amount of trade from all areas of the travel market, particularly the MICE contingent, Kirkwood explains.
â€œIâ€™m seeing an increasing number of corporate companies chartering yachts for team building exercises, incentives trips, or informal business meetings, while private customers charter them mainly for birthday parties, or romantic cruises,â€ she adds.
rah Beach Hotel Marina, launched its services in February.
The company has a range of luxury yachts, available for charter; for cruising, fishing or sailing trips .
The larger yachts are fully air-conditioned and feature luxurious en suite cabins, a spacious saloon and sun bathing deck, and â€œguestsâ€ can chose to go fishing, snorkelling, or just swim in an exotic destination and sunbathe on the deck.
â€œA typical itinerary would include a cruise around The World and Jumeirah Palm,â€ says Celine Weber, marketing & public relations director, ART Marine.
â€œOffshore fishing charters are very popular in peak season, and for longer trips, we can arrange various destinations on request, like the Mussandam Peninsula in Oman.â€
Yachts can be chartered by the hour, day or week to sail to destinations in the Arabian Gulf, depending on the clientâ€™s requirements.
â€œOur Charter Division operates along the entire Dubai coastline, Ras Al Khaimah and as far as the fjords in Oman,â€ says Weber.
ART Marineâ€™s customers are mainly tourists, families, expatriates, corporate companies and VIPs who want to experience the lifestyle of the rich and famous, she explains.
Significant business is generated by travel agencies, tour operators and DMCs, most of whom mark-up prices by 10% to make a profit.
â€œFuture developments including more berthing available for a wider range of sizes of yachts, including super yachts and cruise liners, means that Dubai will become the ideal stopover for yachting enthusiasts within the region and beyond,â€ says Weber.
She says plans are in the pipeline for ART Marine Charter Division to operate charter fleets from other marinas in the region.
Bahrain is an obvious destination for yacht and cruising experiences as it boasts one of the most well established yacht clubs in the region and owns 55 boats to charter, ranging from small sailing dinghies to 30ft sail cruisers, according to Tony Horsley, commodore, Bahrain Yacht Club.
â€œMost charter work involves the larger sailing boat variety, 30ft and above,â€ he explains.
â€œMembers mainly enjoy local area sailing, but they regularly go down to the UAE, Muscat and on occasion to India.â€
The club, which was set up in 1977, has 800 members across 35 nationalities, and is home to 5000 vessels, indicating the importance of the yachting fraternity within Bahrain.
According to Horsley, the people who opt to charter yachts are mostly existing boat owners wishing to sample far-flung cruising grounds.
He says one-third of members are Arab nationals, two-thirds are ex-pats, and a handful of non-residents also have membership.
â€œThe market is huge and growing.
The trade needs to offer no-fuss, value-for-money chartering, of well-presented and maintained boats, hassle-free,â€ he says.
â€œIn general, the customers here are from the upper income brackets and they demand efficient service.â€
The only factor holding back the growth of yachting in the region, according to Horsley, is the absence of sufficient berthing and maintenance facilities.
â€œThe Middle East is an untapped resource as far as tourism goes full stop.
Yacht charter is in its infancy, so watch this space,â€ he adds.
More people are in a position to afford a luxury yacht today than ever before, and the importance of such vessels as a status symbol is greater in the Middle East than in most other regions in the world.
But owning a yacht is fraught with time-consuming processes, and maritime legislation is often complicated and riddled with red tape; add to that the problems with berthing and maintenance and yacht ownership begins to look like a less appealing option.
The recently launched IFA Yacht Ownership Club now offers shared ownership schemes and a wide choice of vessels for members.
â€œThe club works like membership to a country club; itâ€™s an annual renewable membership programmeâ€ explains Piaras.
Moriarty, director, Palm Vacation Club, IFA Hotels & Resorts FZ-LLC.
Members can start their cruise from one of three destinations where IFA bases its yachts.
In Cannes in the Western Mediterranean, the company has a 27-metre yacht, ideal for trips around the French Riviera; in Beirut, a 26-metre yacht sails around the Red Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean; and in IFAâ€™s original base, Dubai, a 23-metre yacht offers sailing opportunities in the Arabian Gulf.
Onboard, a steward caters to membersâ€™ requirements during the course of their trip.
Other staff members onboard the vessels include the captain, deck hand, and a chef if one is required.
â€œResponse here has been so phenomenal that weâ€™re sticking with [the current bases] for now, but eventually we will look to expand, hopefully in the American market.
We also hope to
launch our first yacht in the Caribbean.
â€œWeâ€™re also looking at Phuket (Thailand) and other places in Asia.
Thereâ€™s a movement to the east and to the west.â€
Moriarty says the company will consider launching a charter operation with a new fleet of yachts in the future, allowing IFAâ€™s travel wing, IFA Travel and Tourism, to cash in on the lucrative yachting industry.
â€œI think there is an opportunity for the travel industry to be involved,â€ he says.
â€œThere is a whole world of charter out there, which at this stage, is not converging with the traditional travel and tourism business channels; but it could.â€
Such is the pace of expansion, that companies who have previously had little or no interest in the yachting world are beginning diversify in order to cash in on the imminent boom.
Western Marine, part of the ETA ASCON Group of Companies, whose main activities are property development, was launched last year to cash in on the burgeoning market for luxury yachts sales.
â€œThere are hardly 700 berths available at the moment, but looking ahead, many projects coming to the market are waterfront developments and around 7000 berths will become available in three years,â€ says AJ Kamal, general manager, Western Marine.
â€œThe growth of the yacht industry is equally balanced with these developments and this place will be a luxury market for the yachting community.â€
Based on marine industry growth expectations, Western Marine plans to open regional dealerships; Kamal quotes Muscat, Qatar Kuwait, Saudi Arabia as potential locations.
He says in addition to Dubai, Qatar and Abu Dhabi are two markets where yachting is likely to expand rapidly, as new marinas and waterfront hotel and residential projects spring up.
Although the company is currently only selling to private owners, Kamal says a chartering business is planned.
â€œWe want to establish the brand first, then go for the chartering product,â€ he explains.
â€œWe also want to start our own marina where we can keep used yachts for re-sale, provide maintenance facilities for yacht owners, and offer storage facilities in the summer.â€