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The evolution of the superyacht market in the Gulf
18th September 2023
The Gulf region represents a rapidly growing market for the superyacht industry. For this reason, Camper & Nicholsons has made great strides in investing in its presence and expanding its team in the Middle East. Behzad Saberi, senior sales advisor at Camper & Nicholsons Middle East, tracks the highs and lows of yachting activity in the region, and outlines the market’s nuances.

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The evolution of the superyacht market in the Gulf

Senior sales advisor at Camper & Nicholsons Middle East, Behzad Saberi is based in Dubai and has garnered over 15 years of experience across management, charter and new builds. Over this time, he has witnessed the ups and downs of the superyacht market in the Gulf, but believes we’re now witnessing the “golden years” of yachting in the region.

Market evolution

“The mid-2000s saw a huge peak in demand as the Gulf, particularly the UAE, experienced significant economic growth due to the oil boom and diversification efforts, leading to a rise in the number of ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) individuals in the region,” describes Behzad. “The Gulf also became a popular hub for yacht tourism, with Dubai and other cities in the region investing heavily in marina infrastructure and services to attract wealthy visitors and globetrotters. This boosted local demand for superyachts. In 2008, more than 200 vessels attended the Dubai International Boat Show, while the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was held for the first time in 2009 and this really boosted the yachting industry.”

Around that time, however, the global financial crisis led to a decline in the number of new yachts being commissioned and a decrease in the number of yacht charters. “Some buyers were forced to sell their yachts due to financial troubles,” Behzad continues. “Eventually new yachts came to the market again and more superyachts cruising around the world visited the UAE.”

While the Covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the Gulf superyacht market – with many clients choosing to postpone their yacht purchases or sales and restrictions limiting charters – the post-pandemic bounce back was swift. “The market has shown significant signs of recovery, with increased interest from potential UHNW buyers and successful young entrepreneurs. Research shows some buyers sought out yachts to escape the pandemic and travel restrictions,” Behzad advises. “This upward trend can be seen in financing enquiries for superyachts, new yacht builds and purchase, as well as the number of superyachts available now in the region, with many here for the first time.”

Established and emerging hotspots

The UAE is currently the region’s most established market for superyachts, with Dubai and Abu Dhabi as key hubs. “Much of this is due to UAE’s strategic location, tax-free business environment, and its world-class infrastructure including modern marinas, shipyards and world-leading service providers,” explains Behzad. “Year-round events and boat shows attract buyers and industry professionals from around the world.”

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman are other Gulf countries Behzad expects to grow significantly as yacht markets in the coming years. “These countries have seen a rise in the number of millionaires and billionaires, which has led to an increase in demand for luxury yachts,” he clarifies. “Additionally, the governments of these countries have invested heavily in developing marinas and yacht infrastructure to attract HNW individuals and yachting companies.”

Outside of the Gulf, emerging markets in the Middle East and North Africa include Egypt, Lebanon and Morocco. These countries have seen some growth in the yachting industry, driven by their proximity to the Mediterranean and growing interest in luxury tourism. However, these markets are still relatively small compared to the established Gulf countries.

Client preferences and trends

Nationality and culture can often heavily influence trends in terms of superyacht design. As with many other markets, superyachts in the Gulf are expected to offer the ultimate luxury and comfort on board, including spacious cabins, luxurious furnishings, and amenities such as gyms, spas and movie theatres.

“Owners want their superyachts to be fast, agile and able to handle the rough waters of the region, so they need to be equipped with powerful engines and advanced navigation systems,” says Behzad. “As the safety and security of the owner, guests and crew are of utmost importance, superyachts are fitted with the latest security systems including CCTV, alarms and anti-piracy measures.”

Now, with a growing concern for the environment, owners in the region are increasingly opting for eco-friendly designs, which includes the use of sustainable materials, energy-efficient systems, and waste-management solutions. Yet, given the hot and humid climate, air-conditioning is a priority. “Owners often opt for powerful, efficient AC systems to stay comfortable even in the hottest months,” adds Behzad.

Many Gulf owners also want their superyachts to be unique and reflective of their personal style, which means custom-built yachts tailored to their specific preferences are popular. “Overall, the design features and technical options are tailored to the specific preferences of UHNW individuals in the region, with a focus on luxury, comfort and performance in a challenging environment,” Behzad concludes.