In early April 2020, Motor Boat & Yachting Russia magazine talked with Anton Dolotin, founder of Royal Yacht Club, head of the Russian representative office of Azimut-Benetti Group, about the current state of affairs in the Russian yacht market and its vision of prospects, including for the yacht club .
What does the Russian yachting market look like now, which everyone is already customarily divided into two segments: boats “there” and boats “here”?
Yes, Russian yachtsmen are finally divided into those who hold large enough yachts abroad, and those who have small boats in Russia. This process began during the crisis of 2008-2009, when demand was huge. But what was the situation until 2008? Many then just bought a boat so that it was. Over the past 12 years, people have realized whether they need it in principle, and if so, why. The economy began to whitewash, the amount of easy money decreased, and, of course, people began to appreciate what they earn, becoming more practical in their purchases. It’s like with buckwheat: at the moment of hype, it suddenly ends, and then it can be found without any problems in any store. It was once the same with yachts: everyone wanted now, in extreme cases, tomorrow. Have played enough, and now there are real enthusiasts, whom I have been grateful all my life. It is they who are pulling the Russian domestic infrastructure market.
And in what condition is it now?
It is difficult to make any forecasts … Until now, the most popular boats here are those that were released in 2008-2009: there are still a lot of them in the secondary market. I do not want to compare us with Cuba, where American Cadillacs still travel, but in general, of course, yachting in inland waters is not in the best shape. Yes, there are always and will be those who need all this, but if you take the main players in the market: Princess, Azimut, Sunseeker, Ferretti, then the Russians acquire most of their products for operation in the Mediterranean Sea.
It seems that there is a good demand from Russian buyers there …
Let's just say that in the 30+ meter segment, Russians are among the most serious buyers in the market. Among Russian clients there are many who own yachts 30–40 and even 60–70 meters long. This, of course, pleases everyone, but not RYC as an infrastructure facility. Because here, in the domestic market, all this does not concern us very much. It seems to me that measures to temporarily import into Russia boats under a foreign flag (they were primarily aimed specifically at the Russians), unfortunately, were adopted very late. All this fully worked in the past year, and ideally, this law should have been adopted ten years ago. Then, during this time, we would at least have gained some kind of “exchange” of boats between Europe and the Russian market.
Of course, this is a matter of prospects, but if we talk about small boats, maybe the situation in Russia can be saved by domestic manufacturers? There are more and more of them on the market now, many are developing well …
I think, yes, they can. And it is right. The denser the inexpensive marinas are filled, the better the situation in the expensive marinas: these are “communicating vessels”. Now, of course, it’s wild to see a boat for a million euros, standing at the pier of the yacht club, which costs 10 million rubles. There is a certain discord in this. But as soon as the small fleet, that is, the very small – 5-6 meters – becomes massive, it will be quite good.
Is the Royal Yacht Club ready for such changes in the fleet, for the fact that at the berths there will be not 30–40-meter yachts, but many small boats, including inexpensive domestic ones?
We have been ready for such a turn of events for a long time and have done everything for this. We already have many small boats today, and in terms of cost of parking we are very competitive in this niche.
But in this niche directly in Moscow, in fact, no one else is there. Most yacht clubs in the suburbs, where else to get …
Well, yes, I think that this is one of the most correct ways – to attract residents of the capital with convenience and a good price. Here we are ready to compete with the rest of the market.
At Royal Yacht Club, the infrastructure has long been established and functions like a clock. Is it necessary to come up with something new, or is it better to act on the principle of “works – do not touch”?
Be sure to come up with something. The market … "water services" (let's call it that) has changed – it should be more "eventual". Need events, events, restaurants. Of course, we will do something else on the water – I don’t know yet, this year or next year. Now we are thinking how to implement this, so as not to interfere with our regular customers: this is the main task.
In recent years, the PROyachting project has been rapidly developing at Royal Yacht Club: it includes sailing training and amateur regattas three times a week …
Honestly, without us, the PROyachting project would hardly have taken place. When they first started, it was very important for us to support them in every way. Now they are already on their feet, we are cooperating, and they still have all the preferences and benefits as an “anchor” player in our marina. This is really a super project.
But I have another question … Why do those people who sail here buy so few sailing boats? We ourselves are not players in this market, although we know the statistics and see that the Russians are happy to sail. At the same time, they are in no hurry to invest heavily in this rather inexpensive yacht segment.
Probably, for this, both in due time and for the success of PROyachting in our territory, time is needed. I think that the future of the mass yacht market is still a sail. In inland waters, this, of course, is not always possible and not everywhere: bridges, winding rivers, lacerations … Motor boats are more suitable for outdoor activities and sports. Although there are new compact sailing cruisers with a length of about 10 meters. Let's say Beneteau is an attractive boat, including one for our waters. But to a greater extent I'm talking about those who keep their yachts in the "big water". There, I think, our yacht "middle class" will also rush.
But why? Globally, the ratio of sailing and motor yachts has always been approximately 30 to 70 percent. And it was believed that the proportion of sailing yachts would only fall. Is something changing globally?
We see the sea, bays, jump into the water, go to restaurants … on different boats. But we see the same thing. In this sense, for a middle class yacht, a sailing boat is a unique thing. It does not require huge fuel costs, and sailing yachts has become much easier than before. For a 15-meter motor boat you will have to pay, say, half a million euros, and for a sailing boat – 250 thousand. It seems to me that this type of vacation has great prospects for the Russians. Perhaps that is why, including in such difficult moments, the sailing market should grow. And he, by the way, is growing, but for some reason not in Russia. This is a mystery to me.
Sharing models are a global trend. Why don't you, as a yacht club, put yourself a fleet of a dozen boats and rent them out to any holder of GIMS rights?
Such a project must be considered. The yacht club does not conduct this kind of commercial activity yet, but it may make sense for players in the market to think. Although for this, something needs to change in the Russian mentality. I personally gave my boat to friends, and nothing good came of it. And how it will be in the sharing model is a mystery to me. This is too serious a layer of some features, including mental ones. Until recently, people in our country went along the channel to them. Moscow at a speed of 30 knots. Give them time to come to their senses – and, probably, then it will be possible to speak on this subject. Although the culture on the water in our country is getting better and better. In addition, despite the difficult situation as a whole, the Russian market has good growth points – Sochi, Gelendzhik, Novorossiysk, the Black Sea as a whole. But, it seems to me, sooner or later they will face the same eternal question as Moscow: where to go?
In the summer of 2019, the Royal Yacht Club launched an initiative of club trips from Moscow with several boats to the Great Volga. Have a desire to continue?
Of course, there is, and in the same Sochi and Gelendzhik one also needs to think about this. I am a big fan of domestic tourism. Yes, I spend a lot of time working in Italy, but I like it more and more here in Russia. We see how our colleagues from the United States gather in a crowd of Azimut yachts on weekend trips, have a barbecue – on an ongoing basis.
But so far we are mentally “individual fists”. Knowing almost everyone who stands in our yacht club, I understand how difficult it is to combine different people with their interests. And most importantly – they themselves do not really want to get involved yet. But everything will change. A new generation is coming: these guys think differently, they want to at least communicate with each other, to develop something. They will be pleased to go for a week with a company of 5-6 boats somewhere behind the locks, drop anchor, arrange a barbecue, and then discuss this for another week. I am an optimist: sooner or later this will happen.
Aren't you afraid that, having appreciated the delights of the Big Volga, people will remain there – behind the locks, in the open? Or does the opportunity to keep your boat “closer to the body” – right in the city – have no competition?
If we are afraid of something, then these fears are somewhere at the very end of the list. There are much more serious problems, for example, the possibility of devaluing the ruble or raising taxes. Places on the Volga are secluded and beautiful, so they are valuable. But if there are always a hundred boats there, all this unity with nature will quickly disappear. Plus, you still have to get there.
Does it make sense to establish RYC cooperation with yacht clubs of the Upper Volga? For the benefit of both yachtsmen and the business of yacht clubs …
Of course, this can be of benefit to us from the point of view that people will be involved in yachting again. But to go “there” is still a mini-vacation, at least a week. Therefore, no one canceled the short one-day exits from Moscow to Hals or Petrel, especially if the weather is good. When Moscow is +30, the work week changes immediately: Tuesday is scheduled for Tuesday. So in this sense we are not offended. But some kind of collaboration is needed: to explain to people how to get there, where and what to look for. So that a person rediscovered for himself the opportunity and the need to travel along the inland waterways of Russia.
The conversation was conducted by Olga Selezneva