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Boating paradise

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The Philippines could become a sailing superpower, if only…


WORDS  ZSARLENE B. CHUA

The Philippines, composed of more than 7,000 islands, has always been on the bucket list of sailing enthusiasts. While the potential to become a sailing superpower is there, the lack of boating infrastructure has long deterred all but the most hardcore skippers from entering the country.

“If you ask everybody from Asia, it’s their dream to come to the Philippines with their boats because it’s the best ground in Asia. Every time you talk to a boat owner about the Philippines, they want to go there. Most of them don’t because there’s no infrastructure: where will they put their boats, where will they have it repaired if there’s a problem or simply a place to refuel,” Thomas Cachera, managing director of Europa Yachts, told High Life in an interview in March.

Europa Yachts is one of the leading luxury yacht dealers in the country and is responsible for bringing in some of Europe’s finest and most celebrated boat builders: Azimut, Beneteau, Montecarlo (by Beneteau), Lagoon, and most recently, Construction Navale Bordeaux (CNB).

Having been in business since 2012, Mr. Cachera described the Philippine market as “very unpredictable.”

“There are ups-and-downs but it is growing slowly but surely. Year to year, we can sell anywhere from two yachts up to seven yachtswhich we had last year and it was our best [year],” he said.

“There are a few hurdles we have to pass—mostly infrastructure because there’s not enough marinas. There are a few marinas but all of them are about to be full, [and] that’s slowing down potential buyers,” he explained.

And Mr. Cachera is not alone in seeing the potential of the country as an op-ed piece by Bob Shead for Asean Briefing in August 2017 painted a picture of the Philippines as one of the “countries that have the highest potential in yacht growth” alongside Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

“The industry of yacht chartering in the Philippines is still in early stages.  The yachting and sailing fleets available for rent are mainly composed of privately owned boats, and skippered by the owners who want to share the sailing experience in the Philippines. The priority destinations tend to be Boracay, Puerto Galera, Palawan, Subic Bay, Cebu, and Bohol, with other destinations becoming popular,” said the piece.

It also noted that the problem isn’t only in the Philippines as the region currently does not have a large yachting culture despite the region’s growing wealthy population.

“Currently only 4.3% of the world’s super yachts are Asia-based, despite the region boasting a large number of high net worth individuals,” Mr. Shead explained.

For local boat-builder Angelo Olondriz, president of Headsail, Inc., the lack of infrastructure for yachts and similar boats is due to the government not seeing the industry as a priority.

“They haven’t seen the potential even though no marina in the country has not worked,” he told High Life in the same March interview.

Boating paradise
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Among the main marinas in the country is the Manila Yacht Club which has space for 200 moorings and is now currently full. Likewise, the Subic Bay Yacht Club, with its 120 mooring space, is also full, said Mr. Olondriz.

He explained that Hong Kong, considered Asia’s boating capital, has run out of space to dock their boats and the country could have capitalized on the scarcity but didn’t.

“We could’ve capitalized on the overspill from Hong Kong if we had more marinas, but we didn’t. We really could have,” he said.

“The biggest problem we have in Hong Kong is parking spaces. We just don’t have any left,” said Gordon Hui, the chairman of luxury-boat maker Sunseeker Asia as quoted by South China Morning Post in a June 2017 story. “The demand was strong up until two years ago, but then the spaces started to run out and the market slumped. When there are no parking spaces, the customers can’t buy.”

“The government is not very keen on giving private companies more space for marina development. There are bigger priorities and I agree with that, as private yacht spaces are not really a priority,” Mr. Hui explained.

“They have the mentality that yachting is only for the rich. The point is, if you look at Phuket and Singapore, boats are owned by foreigners. So let’s say locals can’t buy these boats—which is not true—then let’s attract the foreigners. Because if you look at where the Philippines stand in the equator, you can cruise almost 365 days a year anywhere in the country and we have more than 7,000 islands and the people speak English. We have everything going for us to attract them, but we don’t,” said Mr. Olondriz.

He added that the Department of Tourism should look beyond cruise ships as growth drivers of maritime tourism, pointing out that large cruise ships carrying people by the thousands are hurting the local economy and the environment.

“They think international cruise ships, with its 5,000 passengers coming in, but they don’t recognize that within the Philippines, you already have a potential market and it doesn’t have to be 5,000-capacity ships,” he said.

In Venice, which welcomes over 22 million visitors a year, locals have begun protesting the entry of cruise ships in their waters, saying that these large ships ruin the view of the Italian city. In 2017, Venice welcomed 1.4 million tourists via cruise ships.

A July 2017 report by The Telegraph mentioned that hundreds of Venetians took to the waters of the city in 2016 claiming that these ships and its passengers are destroying their city environmentally and culturally. A similar protest was staged in 2013 where protesters swam in the waters of Giudecca Canal to halt the entrance of the ships.

Galliano Di Marco, managing director of Venezia Terminal Passeggeri, suggested that the ships be diverted from the Giudecca Canal and enter the city via a back door, which is only possible by dredging the canals. This suggestion was met with mixed reviews from the protesters.

On the home front, Mr. Olondriz said there’s no other solution but to build more marinas, pointing out that Manila and Cebu could become central hubs because of their strategic locations.

He also suggested that mixed-use development fronting the coast should consider adding marinas to add value to the development.

“The way I see it, it’s two-pronged: the government has to realize that the boating industry is an industry that can grow… incentivize these marinas, these coastal development projects and then the private sector can take over,” he said before adding that the government should likewise classify this industry as a priority industry for tourism because it’s such a shame having thousands of islands yet not having proper infrastructure for boats for most of them.

But despite the hindrances both Mr. Cachera and Mr. Olondriz are still optimistic that the boating industry will soon flourish.

“I am confident it will happen in less than a couple of years. All we need is someone who’ll take the first step and the rest will follow,” Mr. Cachera said.