Yachts moored at the 22nd Monaco Yacht Show, the only boat show devoted exclusively to luxury yachting, at Port Hercules in Monaco. (AAP)
Russian oligarchs and their floating palaces helped keep the luxury yachting industry buoyant through the crisis, but super-rich buyers from China and Brazil are rushing to join them on the waves.
Emerging market billionaires are showing a keen interest in superyachts, according to pundits at this year's Monaco Yacht Show, the prestigious four-day global yacht gathering that wrapped up here on Saturday.
"The BRIC — Brazil, Russia, India and China — nations are much more active than they were three to four years ago," Ellie Brade, Pacific editor at the Superyacht Group monthly magazine told AFP.
China now has 115 billionaires, without counting Hong Kong, according to the Forbes rich list, second only to the United States and ahead of Russia's 101.
"Right now there is a significant and growing demand amongst wealthy Asian people, and in particular, the Chinese, to properly enjoy yachting," said Olivier Besson, managing director of YPI Asia, an Asian joint venture run by Monaco superyacht firm YPI.
Almost all of YPI Asia's buyers come from mainland China, Besson said, but until recently most of the boats sold there were smaller vessels.
"Now, they have had a glimpse of the benefits that owning a superyacht can bring and they like what they see," Besson said.
In Monaco this week, Besson had three clients jetting in from Asia to look at 45-metre to 60-metre (196 feet) boats, among the 100-plus luxury vessels on show.
Pierrik Devic at Fraser Yachts Monaco, was also entertaining a number of Chinese clients at the fair.
"The Russians are still the biggest clients amongst the BRIC countries, but the Chinese are potentially very big clients," he said.
Recent superyacht purchases by Chinese buyers include the sleek, 65-metre (213-foot) Lady Lau — launched last year with five decks and guest rooms in a range of styles from Thai and Chinese to Egyptian.
In April, YPI Asia sent a 65-metre Azimut-Benetti superyacht, Ambrosia, to the Hainan yacht show, the largest megayacht ever seen in local waters.
Another reason for the boom: there are "more opportunities for people to operate yachts in these regions," Brade said.
'Understanding their culture'
Some hurdles persist in China, including a very high wealth tax of over 43 percent, YPI Asia' Besson said.
But the lack of infrastructure that long held back the yachting market is changing, experts said, with a string of marina projects underway along China's shores, including a superyacht facility in Tianjin near Beijing.
Meanwhile on the Latin American market, leading Italian yacht builder Azimut Benetti has seen its Brazilian sales soar 45 percent over the past five years, the firm's sales and marketing manager Stefano de Vivo told AFP.
Benetti worked around the hurdle of high Brazilian import taxes on luxury goods by setting-up a local production facility.
Booming India is another target country for the yachting industry, and Vijay Mallya, chairman of Kingfisher Airlines, recently snapped up a 95-metre (311 feet) yacht, the Indian Empress.
To cultivate this promising new clientele, most of the international firms that buy, sell, charter and manage the floating palaces have been opening offices in Asia and South America.
But for the industry, until now focused on Europeans and North Americans, catering to these new buyers is a learning curve.
"It's about educating potential clients about owning superyachts — and understanding their culture," Brade stressed.
Sun-loving, partying Brazilians for instance want lots of swimming decks and outdoor space, while many Chinese do not swim and prefer to keep out of the sun.
"Chinese clients are far more interested in the inside rather than the outside spaces on a yacht," Besson noted.
On the other hand, being enthusiastic gamblers, Chinese boat owners equip their boats with gaming tables and ever popular karaoke machines, he said.
The Indian market as a whole is expected to develop more slowly than China or Brazil, Brade said, precisely because the industry has yet to pin down what Indian clients want.