BY APB Staff on 17 Jun 2021

Clemente Contestabile expects to see Italian yacht exports reach record highs this year

Clemente ContestabileHong Kong remains an important market for the Italian yacht industry, says Hong Kong’s Italian Consul-General Clemente Contestabile, who expects to see Italian exports reach record highs this year.

“Hong Kong is one of the key markets for Italian players. Last year, yachts sales rose by 17% compared to 2019. I expect 2021 to be a record year for our export of boats,” says Contestabile, who points out that Italy remains the second main supplier of boats after China. “We are proud to manufacture the most exquisite, beautiful and technologically advanced yachts in the world.

The yachting industry is vital for Italy. It employs over 180,000 people, considering the entire supply chain, and accounts for 2% of the country’s GDP. It is the leading supplier of yachts over 79 feet and is one of the top exporters of sailboats, with around a 4% share of the global market.

Ferretti Group fleet in Hong Kong

Ferretti Group fleet in Hong Kong

In 2021, Italy is president of the G20 and co-president of this November’s COP26 climate change conference. The Italian Consulate in Hong Kong is placing a particular emphasis on raising awareness on marine conservation issues.

“In Italy, we are pioneers in marine protection – we live on the Mediterranean, and it’s not just part of our economy, it’s part of our culture!” says Contestabile. “There are 250 billion fragments of plastic in the Med, which affects biodiversity and impacts tourism. Marine plastic is an issue in Italy, as well as here in Hong Kong. So we are emphasising this issue as part of our role in the climate change negotiations.”

On June 17, the Consulate organised a seminar on marine micro-plastics at the University of Hong Kong, bringing together academics and business leaders to explore efforts of the business community to tackle marine conservation issues.

“Events like this are a way to raise awareness in Hong Kong because I don’t see here the same tension [on the issue] that I see in Italy,” says Contestabile, who says that Italian yacht companies are becoming “very much engaged” in sustainable solutions.

“The ocean environment is part of the yachting experience, and they are stakeholders in the ocean,” he says. “The Italian yachting companies such as Ferretti, Sanlorenzo, Azimut/Benetti, Solaris, they have set their sails on a sustainable path. They are developing sustainable solutions both in the manufacturing process and in the yachting experience.”

Marine plastic

Marine micro-plastic is a focus for Italy as co-president of the COP26 climate change summit

Contestabile is also hoping to arrange a ‘Sailing Against Plastic’ regatta, which would combine a social day of sailing with a marine plastic cleanup. “This is my pet project!” he says. “We have a plan where we have a number of boats joining, but we still have to find partners and sponsors for this. It’s not official yet, but I am hoping to arrange it by the end of the year.”

Contestabile himself is a keen sailor who enjoys taking to the water with friends aboard a 47-foot Solaris. “There is a fantastic yachting community in Hong Kong,” he says. “I have friends who said they’d never seen a place until they joined me on a boat. The pandemic has made us slow down and enjoy more what is around us. Where the virus is subsiding, people are assembling an approach to life and business that strangely combines what they miss about the time before Covid and what they discovered during the pandemic.

“We all have realised that we do not need to travel that much for business. That we better avoid crowds. And that we may be more productive in our studio aboard a yacht than in our office. I think people are ready for a more balanced, healthy and sustainable way of living.”

There are changes, too, in the broader APAC market. The region is set to register the fastest growth in yacht charter in 2020/21 and is of strategic importance to the Italian yacht industry.

“Economic growth is one factor. But I also see a cultural change underway in many Asian countries, says Contestabile. “Twenty years ago, when I worked in Beijing, few Chinese, mainly those who had studied abroad, approached the yachting experience. Now more and more people are enjoying the pleasure of relaxing off the coast.” He pauses for effect: “Of course, if they want to relax in style and get the best available technology, they buy an Italian yacht!”