As European yacht builders wooed potential buyers at the Cannes boat show this month, the conversation repeatedly turned to the market opportunities emerging among the growing band of affluent Chinese — people like Lan Lu-Chen, a young businessman eyeing the merchandise bobbing at the quay side.
'Yachts are in fashion in China at the moment,' Mr. Lan said. 'Although the market is very small, there are many rich people. They want a boat to play with, to entertain their friends on — and maybe to plan business.'
The market may be in its early stages, but the hunger for status-enhancing symbols among China’s new tycoons is a welcome novelty for luxury boat builders, who have been navigating difficult conditions in their traditional European and U.S. markets in recent years. The British motor yacht builder Sunseeker, said its Sunseeker China unit sold four yachts, worth a combined $15.9 million, at the Hainan Rendez-Vous boat show in April.
But convincing the Chinese to buy a luxury brand, whether it’s a car, jet or boat, is one thing: turning them into seafaring enthusiasts is another. Not all boat builders are convinced that it can easily be done. 'I don’t believe too much in China at the moment,' said Luca Boldrini, a brand manager at CRN, a shipyard owned by the Ferretti Group, of Italy.
'My experience is that mega yachts are normally bought by accomplished yachtsmen — men who know what they want,' Mr. Boldrini said at the show in Cannes. 'The Chinese don’t like the sun or sea.'
The expansion of China’s yacht market is also hindered by a lack of sailing infrastructure and obscure regulations that vary from province to province, said Alberto Perrone da Zara, marketing director of Riva, another Ferretti yard. 'The people are there, the willingness is there, but the infrastructure is virtually absent,' Mr. da Zara said. 'There are no marinas, no people to fix a boat.'
Full story: www.nytimes.com/2011/09/21/business/global/can-a-novelty-for-the-rich-become-a-true-passion.html?_r=1