Yacht marketer laments lack of infrastructure

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In issue No. 104 on January 17, Vietweek published the opinions of Richard McKenzie, a foreign expat in Nha Trang, who argued that Vietnam is losing a large source of revenue and jobs by not integrating yachting along its thousands of kilometers of coastline. His opinions attracted feedback from Noelle Iles, marketing manager of sailboat builder Corsair Marine International:

A yacht is docked in Da Nang’s Han River Port. Photo by Nguyen Tu

I agree 100 percent with the article recently written and submitted by Mr Richard Mckenzie regarding Vietnam 'missing the boat' on its maritime economic and infrastructural development.

Come on Vietnam, look around you. Yacht Clubs and Marinas bring in tremendous wealth, prosperity, tourism and even brand promotion in those countries to the North, South, East and West of you! What are you waiting for? 

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I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City in 2000. Coming from a lifetime of sailing elsewhere around the world I was actually dumbstruck to find a total lack of private sailing or maritime infrastructure in Vietnam. 

Over the years, I have met so many people who are sailors, power boaters, fishermen and water enthusiasts but with no easy way to meet people with water activity interests (due to not having a dedicated venue or venues) there remains an untapped and unknown quantity of people who would otherwise be spending their money and time near the water (F&B) or on the water (excursions, learning to sail, actually sailing, boating, skiing, fishing) and this in turn could mean a lifetime of job security for thousands of Vietnamese people living along Vietnam's shores.

I have also heard various arguments or witnessed reasons why Vietnam lacks initiative to progress its maritime development and here are some below:

1.  Culturally, the Vietnamese are not a 'maritime' people and therefore have no historical experience with being on boats for enjoyment other than fishing which is not for enjoyment but for livelihood.

2.  Until now, with an emerging middle class, there has been no time to become involved with leisure boating since Vietnamese have been busy earning a living just to survive and get ahead.

3.  Why would Vietnamese people buy a boat when it's far more important to spend their money educating their children?

4.  Owning a boat is not yet a 'status symbol' but apparently owning a Porche, Range Rover, Bentley or a Rolls Royce is, as evidenced by the number you see every day on the road.

5.  The statistics for how many Vietnamese are 'fearful of the water' and how many die from drowning related incidents is extremely high (but what are the exact statistics)? I have heard drowning related incidents are only 2nd to motorbike related deaths.

6.  Governmental bureaucracy (as stated by Mr Mckenzie)

7.  Lack of maritime infrastructure (as stated by Mr Mckenzie and due to point #6 above).

8.  There is no coordinated Vietnam Coast Guard or ship to shore support (perhaps other than the Military) and most people know that if one gets in trouble at sea (or even just offshore 200 to 300 meters), most people are unlikely to be helped or saved.

9.  There is no transparency or clear understanding of how one can clear customs by sea? I don't even know if it's possible in a private boat.

10.  Water enthusiasts and sailors are treated with suspicion rather than welcoming encouragement to enjoy the beauty Vietnam has to offer.

11.  Oh, and did I mention the Vietnamese detest the sun as this makes them darker and dark skin is equated with farming which is equated with poverty.

Actually, I could go on and on. You get the point. As a founding member of the Saigon Yacht Club in 2005 until 2009, we generated interest for maritime events to hundreds of people and organized successfully attended events such as Family Sailing Weekends in Phu Quoc; amateur race regattas in Mui Ne; guest speaker evenings in Saigon.

It was difficult getting the equipment together and sometimes things got lost at sea or broken (and often impossible and costly to replace immediately) but the clear interest in corporate and private sponsorship was astounding and every event was well attended by the young, old, singles, couples, families, men and women, expats and Vietnamese, wealthy and middle class, educated and eager to learn!

It is possible to develop. Come on Vietnam. Stop 'missing the boat' and open up your country to opportunity and the promotion of your brand! Clearly it is time for this discussion to be on the table once more and, it would seem, the table will need to be even bigger these days to accommodate the interest!

By Noelle Iles*

* Noelle Iles is marketing manager of sailboat builder Corsair Marine International. The opinions expressed are her own and are not necessarily of Corsair Marine.

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