Dubai International Boat Show
Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Make yachting affordable again. That was the rallying call at Wednesday morning’s Dubai International Boat Show press conference, as the boating industry attempts to shed an image of wealth and excess and appeal to a new generation of enthusiasts with different tastes.

With over $65 billion (Dh239 billion) invested in ports across the UAE in 2018, according to the event’s organisers, the focus of next week’s boat show will be on growing the market as a whole, with 85 per cent of the yachts on display from the small- and medium-sized category.

This pivot away from the Mediterranean mega-yachts of the world’s top 0.1 per cent involves recentering the conversation around the $1.5 billion (Dh5.51 billion) water activities industry.

“We want to make sure that the boating industry … is accessible and affordable to the larger community,” said Trixie LohMirmand, senior vice president for events and exhibitions at the Dubai World Trade Centre, the boat show’s organiser.

This year’s show would pay greater attention to the “toys that will accompany the boats,” she added, “because this is actually how you get in to boating.”

“You don’t start with buying a boat, you get in to the sea with the jet skis and so on.”

Drawing the attention of the larger community toward the potential of water-based activities was of great importance, LohMirmand said. “The boat show is not just a place to look at boats.”

This push comes at a time when the UAE is investing heavily in its maritime tourism strategy, with new passenger ports for cruise ships in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, while attempting to model itself as a sort of Cannes for the Middle East, a city of luxury and comfort where yacht owners can dock their vessels in the winter.

As a result of this drive, the UAE has seen a 50 per cent increase in local berths — a number which is set to grow by a further 1,400 with the 2020 opening of the new Meraas-developed Dubai Harbour. From a time not so long ago when there was a shortage of berths, some experts now argue that the country is oversupplied.

When asked if owning a boat, which can commonly cost at least $75,000 upfront according to enthusiast website The Carefree Boater, could ever be considered affordable, LohMirmand said she thought it was possible.

“The superyacht category is a nice, appealing part of the show … but it’s only 15 per cent,” she said. “Some of the small boats on display are cheaper than owning a family car.” The cheapest boat expected to be displayed will cost around Dh100,000, according to the event’s organisers.

The tricky part, she said, was in “getting people to understand what the sea and marine life could offer, before you get them to buy a boat. This is the journey we’re trying to create.”

While other boating events around the world were just about the vessels, LohMirmand said the Dubai Boat Show had focused on “creating a lot of peripheral activities to go around … to lure people into that lifestyle.”

Still, for fans of superyachts, the Dubai boat show promises to have at least 20 very large yachts on display, including the 42-metre Majesty 140 and the 31.7-metre Majesty 100 from the UAE-based Gulf Craft.

“[We’ve] seen a year-on-year increase in sales leads at the Dubai International Boat Show, and we expect that 2019 will be just as successful,” said Abeer Al Shaali, executive management officer at Gulf Craft. “[It’s] the most anticipated show of the year for us.”