Jonathan Beckett: Burgess CEO predicts the future of yachting

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Families are key to developing the next generation of owners

The superyacht industry is an ever-shifting landscape, but few people are as well placed to predict the future market trends as Jonathan Beckett, CEO of international brokerage house Burgess. We caught up with him to get his views on emerging markets, evolving designs and much more…

“I think it’s an exciting time to be in yachting,” he says. “When you look at the number of superyacht owners in the world today and how many of them actually have children, I think there’s great potential to increase their number quite considerably over the next ten years. If they’ve grown up on boats and their family has had boats for a long time, I think they are keen to continue. It’s an interesting market for us to explore.”

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Charter is an important avenue for bringing in new clients

“We have been very successful in converting charter customers into owners over a long period of time,” Beckett continues. “A lot of people start off by chartering a boat to see how they go. Maybe the first or second yacht is not quite right for them; it’s a sort of ‘getting to know you’ process. That is a great gateway into the yachting market.”

Burgess currently has more than 100 charter yachts on its books, including the 95 metre Oceanco yacht Indian Empress (pictured above).

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Charter clients’ demands are evolving

“High-speed internet is a regular demand, as well as water toys and a six-star service. You can immediately tell if a boat has six-star service, rather than four-star or even three-star,” he explains.

New superyacht water toys are constantly being offered, but Beckett argues that these are not essential for running a successful charter yacht. “I don’t think you’ve got to have anything out of the ordinary. You obviously need tenders, maybe a limousine for getting people ashore dry, maybe a Jet Ski. Do you need to have a flyboard? I don’t think somebody would select the boat purely on that basis.”

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Instability and uncertainty will give clients pause for thought

The political landscape is notoriously difficult to predict and Beckett picked out two key areas to focus on: “I think instability in the Middle East and Russian sanctions will have the biggest impact on our industry. Will Brexit have a big impact on yachting? It’s difficult to say — no-one knows what Brexit is going to do.”

However, these challenges are often just a matter of timing, as he explains: “When there’s uncertainty in the markets, people wait. When we had the global financial crisis, some of our clients did lose money, a lot didn’t, but they thought it was not a good time to be spending lots of money on yachts. I think yachting is here to stay. At the top-end, there are 2,500 superyachts in the world and that number could easily grow by 20% in the next 7-10 years.”

Photo: Flickr / Raphael Chekroun

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The Asian market is gradually maturing

“In terms of the buyers, when China and Asia comes online that will release a lot of buyers into the market,” Beckett predicts. “In Singapore and Hong Kong, they are laying the seeds at the moment. I think it will be 5-10 years before that market matures. This generation has made their money and are intent on keeping it, but their children will spend a lot of time in the West, more than their parents and they will be the ones that go out and spend it.”

Burgess already has a strong presence in Asia, having recently exhibited the 77 metre Silver Fast (pictured above) at the 2017 Singapore Yacht Show. “We are laying the groundwork for the market that is going to come, as opposed to expecting lots of people to simply make offers on boats,” he adds.

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Twin-engine propulsion will remain the norm

With some of the finest designers in the world working on superyacht projects, there is certainly no shortage of ideas, but clients can be understandably cautious, Beckett explains. “It’s quite a lot of money that you’re investing. We’ve built a few diesel-electric yachts, but when you look at some of the smaller diesel-electric boats that have been built, they cost about 10% more to build and they cost about 10% more to sell at the same price as a conventional propulsion system.

“There are people who are straying off the proven track, with things like single engine propulsion systems. Is that going to become the norm in the future? I really don’t think it is. It’s very commendable, but there aren’t people queuing up to do another one."

However, not all clients are the same, as Beckett reveals: “I did have a client who was a keen scuba diver and he said that when the sea gets rough, the best place to be is under the water, as it’s only choppy on the surface. He asked if someone could design a yacht that could turn into a submarine and go under the water when the seas are rough and I don’t think he was joking! I don’t know how you’d do that, but people certainly are thinking out of the box.”

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Superyacht owners will always want to be where the action is

“People don’t really want to go exploring,” Beckett claims. “They don’t want to be on their own in the middle of the Pacific or somewhere in South-East Asia, they want to be anchored off St Tropez where everybody else is and I don’t think that’s going to change dramatically.

“When you look at some of the explorer yachts that have been built, they are fantastic but they’ve never been to the Pacific — they’ve hardly been to the Caribbean. I’m a keen sailor and we’re always looking for deserted bays or places we can be on our own, but actually that’s not what our clients want,” he concludes. “They don’t want to be on the other side of the world, away from their family, away from their business, or away from the soccer club they own. They want it to be convenient, not inconvenient.”

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