Vietnam gets a taste for superyachts

This file photo shows a boy looking out at a row of tourist boats anchored at a port waiting for tourists in the central coastal city of Nha Trang in Vietnam. (Hoang Dinh Nam / AFP Photo)

Few things are more anathema to communism than a superyacht, except perhaps taking a ride to the marina in a Bentley.

In Nha Trang on Vietnam’s east coast, motorbikes still outnumber luxury cars but there are signs of flourishing wealth everywhere.

The half-hour drive along the road to the country’s first deep water marina is filled with glimpses of plush resorts, some complete and others in various stages of development. There’s a palpable sense of the money and ambition being poured into this once sleepy fishing village, just a short flight from Ho Chi Minh City. That’s reinforced when Ana Marina, which can accommodate up to 220 yachts, comes into view.

The changes that have catapulted Nha Trang into a thriving holiday destination in recent years for locals and foreigners, especially Chinese and Russians, encapsulate the dramatic advances in the formerly war-ravaged country. Economic growth has held above six percent for the past five years, driven in part by a manufacturing sector that churns out everything from Nike sportswear to Samsung smartphones. LG Electronics Inc. last month announced plans to shift some of its production from South Korea to Vietnam to cut costs.

Vietnam is also a source of stunning wealth creation. Ultra-high-net-worth individuals, defined as those with investable assets of US$30 million or more, were minted faster here in percentage terms than anywhere else in the world between 2013 and 2018, eclipsing even China and India, Knight Frank’s 2019 Wealth Report found. Even at the (much) lower end of the spectrum, things are improving. The country’s poverty rate is decreasing, there aren’t as many households suffering from food shortages and average monthly income per capita increased 10.2 percent a year from 2016 through 2018 to 3.7 million dong (US$158).

Mercedes-Benz AG sold 150 Maybachs, its luxury marque, in Vietnam in 2017, among the highest for the automaker in Southeast Asia. Mercedes-Benz Vietnam said it has been able to set a new sales record for its vehicles every year since 2012 and registered growth of 12 percent in the first four months of 2019.

A fascination with pleasure craft is just further evidence of Vietnam’s arrival onto the conspicuous-consumption stage.

“People in Saigon have yachts but the dilemma is Saigon isn’t near the sea,” said Dang Hieu, Ana Marina’s chief executive officer, referring to Ho Chi Minh City by its previous name. “It’s on a river and I regret when boats are moored on boring water. People are also looking for a safe place to keep them.”

Ana Marina is anything but boring. Once it’s completed later this year, the facility, about twice the size of New York’s Grand Central Station on land and water, will boast a clubhouse, conference centre, fine dining restaurants and villas. Dang even took a trip to Monaco to see how a world-class yacht club is operated.

Inquiries are coming from as far afield as Japan and South Korea. “People want to send their yachts to Vietnam to avoid undesirable weather conditions,” Dang said.

Vietnam’s socialist government has been supportive of promoting yachting, at least for tourism purposes. That’s in contrast to China, where such ostentatious displays of wealth are frowned upon, limiting the market for superyachts.

In Vietnam, a special consumption tax of 30 percent on luxury items can be waived when a company plans to use the craft to entertain tourists or for charter hire. It also takes less time to import a yacht because there’s implicit government support for opportunities that bring value to the country.

That prompted Doan Viet Dai Tu, chairman of Vietnamese investment firm Openasia Group, to buy in.

“I’ve been watching the yachting industry for many years and waiting for the right time,” Doan Viet said. Openasia also owns Tam Son, a luxury distributor that represents brands including Hermes, Kenzo and Bottega Veneta. It got into the boat business with another partner in 2017 to launch Tam Son Yachting, now Vietnam’s official importer of Beneteau.

Openasia has also invested in yachting infrastructure. It’s behind a service centre for yacht maintenance and a marina along the Saigon River called Central Park Marina. It sits adjacent to another project emblematic of Vietnam’s ascension – a 44-hectare development by Vinhomes JSC that takes its inspiration from New York’s leafy heart. It’s home to luxury condos and villas, the country’s tallest skyscraper and a riverside promenade. Residents with boats will soon be able to berth them nearby.

While yachting culture is still in its infancy, Doan Viet says the potential is huge. “We want to bring yachting as entertainment, something that’s affordable not only for very wealthy people but for the upper-middle class as well.”

To that end, Tam Son Yachting sold a 60-foot Beneteau Monte Carlo 6 to Reverie Saigon, the city’s first six-star hotel, to use for private charters. The boat, which was delivered last year, can accommodate around 10 guests for cruising and the hotel offers outings with a private butler and champagne picnic.

“I have to say, this is very promising,” said Doan Viet. “We’re going to be very busy in the yachting industry for the next 10 or 20 years.” - Bloomberg