Peter Mahony, Hong Kong-based General Manager of Benetti Yachts Asia, takes stock of the latest developments in the world of the high-end brand he represents and the regional response.
A widening of appreciation for Benetti Yachts in the APAC region is apparent. Starting with the news in June of the sale of FB270, the first Benetti set to sail within the Chinese Classification system, what does that mean for the brand and the wider yachting industry?
The implications for the wider yachting industry is very good news. We’ve heard a lot of talk of change and development for the yacht market in China and this sale couldn’t take place without that being a reality. While nothing happens overnight, it’s a clear indicator that the China market is opening and that there are movements in the marine tourism industry there.
What gives you the sense that this is the case – has Benetti had significant growth in enquiries in China?
It’s really what we’ve noticed from our work ‘behind the scenes’, working with governments and the [relevant] authorities, to understand what they’re trying to achieve. And working together to realise the potentials of the market and to create opportunity for our industry. So rather than being enquiry-driven, it’s more us trying to stimulate the market – and we’re not alone: a number of others are trying to achieve this end. This particular flagship sale (the recent FB270 in mainland China) is a real demonstration that we’re moving in the right direction. Just today on Facebook, I saw that that Hainan has opened up its waters throughout the summer, until January 2020 [Xinhua news agency reported this in July].
For Benetti, our two platforms have been very successful: our 200 [-foot] series has done well – within this, [the] Spectre [range] has done very well and won awards such as Best Custom-Built Yacht, at the Asia Boating Awards this year, and now Vogue is an evolution of that series, currently being built. She looks absolutely beautiful and I look forward to seeing her [upon expected completion in April 2021].
The 108-metre flagship FB275 giga yacht, the longest yacht ever built by Benetti, was delivered this July.
Are there specific elements of these models that you think appeal to China and the wider Asia-Pacific region?
We have a very strong presence in the yacht sector, and given that we are devoted to personalising all models for the Asian market, we can meet the special requirements of the market.
Where else are you feeling the demand is strong in the APAC region – there were recent sales of the Mediterraneo 116, Fast 125 and Custom 50M?
Hong Kong is still the strongest market for people to buy and upgrade their yachts in Asia. We have a lot of activity in Australasia and some activity in Southeast Asia – Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, which is a smaller market than the other two [mentioned].
How is the brand attempting to better align with potential owners in this part of the world and are approaches to Asian buyers different to elsewhere?
We have buyers in all sorts of areas throughout Asia, which include the Philippines and Vietnam, Cambodia – but we’re not selling volume, we’re not a production yard.
The approaches are quite different – the owners in different places always have different requirements. A great strength of Benetti is to be able to diversify and produce incredible creations for each individual owner. With the Asian market there are other considerations; the process from enquiry to delivery can be very diverse. On the whole we are dealing with a lot of parties involved for a purchase in Asia, and the purchase is very considered – we go into a lot of detail.
One important area is our discretion. Many of the discussions we have – although they may involve very large groups with partners and brokers involved – is to respect the client’s privacy. We’re often working under non-disclosure agreements, so there are limits to what we can say in interviews like this.
Peter Mahony at Design Shanghai in March.
Benetti made its first appearance at Design Shanghai this year and hosted small group sessions with designer Giorgio M. Cassetta of the award-winning Spectre and FB270 – how was the reaction in Shanghai?
One of the challenges for the buyer is to find someone with the depth of knowledge of our products to really find out if it’s the right solution for them. So we invited Giorgio to come over to Design Shanghai and we ran a series of workshops with the leading brokers of the region for him to take them first hand through the projects that he’s designed, such as Vogue, Mediterraneo 116, Delfino 95 and our Diamond 145 – to give them a real understanding of the story behind the design, why we’ve developed the yachts in the way we have and the key facts that you wouldn’t notice with just a brochure. Brokers really appreciated the insights and this is important with our strategy to support them more effectively.
What did Benetti learn at Design Shanghai and through other research into the Chinese market about the potential for yacht ownership there?
It’s a huge potential market – but communicating into that market and the values of advertising in the way that things are marketed in that make it quite difficult to penetrate and reach potential buyers. A lot of what we do is brand building and seeding a market, so events like the one in Shanghai are a fantastic opportunity to find the influencers and show our proposition to people that are maybe able to support a buyer in the future.
We are very active in China, we advertise and have our own WeChat page – it’s all in Chinese. Also, we host our website in Chinese, which we’ve had for years – we’ve had a good share of mega yachts in this region for a while, and as a response to our customer base we support it.
Our workshops at Design Shanghai were very well attended, by designers, artists and media across a lot of different areas, as well as the brokers. The Italian design ethos is popular in China; the yachts are beautifully designed, so we attracted influencers across a wide area.
We’re often working under non-disclosure agreements, so there are limits to what we can say
Peter Mahony addresses media during the 2019 Singapore Yacht Show.
To what extent is the Australian market growing for Benetti – the shipyard has been appearing with increasing regularity at boating events there?
We’ve had great success with Australian buyers. Despite having a lot of Australian owners, they are using the operators outside of Australia. Our current focus is to develop the Australian domestic market. The way we’re doing this is through our service partners, Gold Coast City Marina & Shipyard and Rivergate Marina & Shipyard. The first question on anyone’s lips when they buy a boat is, “If it goes wrong, where can I get it fixed?” And so it’s important to us to provide a solution and contact for them that’s in their time zone. And that’s also important to us to have a contact in the same time zone for future boat sales.
At Gold Coast City Marina, there is a Benetti 145 undergoing refitting and repurposing, so we do have activity there already. We’ve found there’s a very strong commitment in Australia and New Zealand from some serious industry professionals and we are very keen to support them – I’m very confident with models that we have now and models that I know will come that will be of interest to this market.
Australia has a longer boating history than Asia; what makes a Benetti appealing to this more mature market?
It’s a market that first needs to be looked after, its cycle of ownership doesn’t change much; people buy a boat and keep it, so they’re looking at the boat later in the boat’s life beyond the warranty period. Then there is whether it suits the purpose there – there are limitations on the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsundays [have specific] anchoring [requirements]. They need to know which categories the boat falls within – so at the point of sale, we need to show very clearly what capability and suitability a model has. That’s a knowledge and presentation need for us. For operation, there is a lot of chartering in Australia; there are very specific requirements for operation in that region. So one of the essential things we do is to make sure that all boats we offer in Australia are compliant.
We support and are very positive about the China market – we continue to have discussions there.
The Benetti Oasis 40M, revealed last year.
In June, Benetti Yachts announced its recent launch of three giga yachts within 100 days. How do these and other global sales percentages break down right now for Benetti?
The sales of our three giga yachts came from three different regions. The gigas are all interesting stories, but we sign agreements of non-disclosure so we can’t say much. They do show an enormous capability for us – years of work lie behind them. And customers can now have even more confidence in coming to us for yachts over 65 metres.
Do you expect your cooperation with co-ownership company SeaNet – which, since 2016, has offered owners fractional shares solely in Benetti and Azimut yachts – to account for a significant proportion of yacht sales? And has there been much interest in the APAC region for this yet?
SeaNet is a great partner for us – particularly as its owner Matty Zadnikar is a Benetti owner, who then realised a model of ownership where the owner doesn’t need to pay for everything themselves, which he calls “co-ownership”, is a little different to other fractional ownership schemes. As a company, we can see there’s a great opportunity here.
Are there any new production models in the pipeline that you can mention?
Benetti is always shaping new models. In 2017 we launched Oasis, which is 40 metres, and the desirability of this yacht has become very significant. The activity levels in sales and future sales are very strong on Oasis, to the point that we now are ready to go ahead with our launch of the 35-metre Oasis that should be announced later this year in much more detail. And we have a number of new designs that we hope will come to the market soon – plus we always have new designs of mega and giga yachts going on.
And what are future plans in the Asia Pacific, and forecasts for the region for the next five years?
We’re on a long-term path, I don’t see any radical change in our mode of operation, but we are constantly making adjustments strategically for best results. We’re always open to new ways to work and listening to markets. We support and are very positive about the [mainland] China market; we continue to have discussions there. We’re working hand in hand with the China Classification Society to deliver the FB270 with the China flag. This will be a very important milestone. Southeast Asia is very interesting for me – we’ve had great success with larger boats there and I think some of our new models will be ideally suited to that market. And it’s the same for Australia – we’re demonstrating our credibility and desirability and think our upcoming models will also be appealing there.
LIFE BEFORE BENETTI
In October 2017, UK-born Peter Mahony was appointed General Manager of Benetti Yachts Asia. He manages sales throughout the Asia-Pacific region, and is responsible for maintaining customer satisfaction, after-sales and marketing development to reinforce and build the group’s presence across the region.
With over 30 years’ experience in marketing and sales throughout Europe and in Asia, Mahony has a background in mechanical engineering. He began his career in yacht manufacturing and sales with the UK’s largest boat builder, Sunseeker, where he excelled to become sales director for its largest retail distributor. In 2008 he moved to Princess Yachts, taking lead role in the launch and ongoing sales of a full range of production superyachts. In 2013 an exciting opportunity arose to move with Princess to Singapore and apply his experience to build up the firm’s Asian presence, market share and regional sales network. In 2016, he became Sales Director of Sunseeker in Singapore, prior to his current position at Benetti.
Interview: Andrew Dembina