Gulf Craft: Where the UAE’s superyachts are born (July 28, 2014)

The recently promoted chief executive of Gulf Craft, the only UAE-based yacht maker, has a knack of skirting round choppy waters.
The Belgian Erwin Bamps, 45, formerly the company’s chief operating officer, has been with the yacht builder for 12 years after joining as an executive manager back in 2002 overseeing the workforce of 220. Gulf Craft had just one boatyard when he joined, it now has four and the fifth is not far off, although the whereabouts, size and staffing levels are still being kept under wraps.
“It will be in the UAE … ” is the closest he gets to identifying its location. Mr Bamps is not one usually lost for words, unless questions touch on the specifics of Gulf Craft’s bottom line. Still, he has witnessed a steady increase in business and workforce, which now numbers nearly 2000.
“I expect our business to grow by far more than 25 per cent over the next few years,” says Mr Bamps. “We have gained international recognition with our product. There isn’t a yacht market on the planet that we are not present in.
“We want to give ourselves the opportunity to consistently grow over the next few years. The population growth and marine environment being developed around the [Arabian] Gulf means the want for our products has been growing constantly.”
The Umm Al Quwain-based boat builder has one of the widest product ranges in the industry from 27 foot at about Dh200,000 up to 155ft at Dh100m, a range that allows customers to grow with the brand and upgrade, something which happens regularly says Mr Bamps. The 100ft-plus superyachts are a newer field for the company.
“We will never be a mass boat builder, we provide what the customer wants, we are a semi custom boat builder, and with the larger yachts there is a greater scope to customise,” says Mr Bamps. “Everything you see aboard our yachts we manufactured here in the factory, we build everything from a A to Z. It’s how we keep costs down.”
The global financial crisis was hard on the yacht building industry. According to Showboat International’s Global Order Book between 2009 and 2010 orders for yachts fell more than 23 per cent. Gulf Craft saw the years through the crash by focusing on superyachts. With the idea that in hard times the rich stay rich the company saw designing and creating bespoke yachts for the world’s ultra-wealthy opening up a new lucrative line. The bespoke yacht market is one with wide margins. The company’s international recognition enabled Gulf Craft to enter into the top 10 superyacht (a superyacht is 100ft or above, in length) makers in the world, according to the 2014 Global Order Book. While the international customer base is growing, the Gulf is still, by far, the company’s No 1 target market with about 7,000 vessels sold here over its 33-year history. Still, compared with the United States, which has about 60 million boat owners, there is still a long way to go.
According to the Superyacht Builders Association 2013 Economic Report, the Middle East has the highest “propensity to buy” a superyacht, at 48 per cent. This means nearly half of the ultra high-net worth individuals (UHNWIs) in the Middle East are likely to own or buy a superyacht, more than anywhere else.
This year’s Dubai International Boat Show was a clear reflection of the region’s booming leisure maritime sector, hosting 430 boats worth Dh1.8 billion and posting a 12 per cent increase in exhibitors.
The GCC has 64 marinas and 12,629 marina berths, led by the UAE with 30 marinas and 4,816 berths, according to ART Marine marinas division. The UAE also posted returns of US$170m to $220m on leisure-boat design and boatbuilding in 2013, according to the Dubai Council for Marine and Maritime Industries and Drydocks World.

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