As an evolving cosmopolitan capital, Shanghai’s skyscraping hotels and fine dining restaurants scream luxury—and so does the Chinese city’s latest trend: yachting. The port city has seen growth in the recreational boating industry along the Huangpu River as new marinas and waterfront developments are popping up to support the seafaring leisure sport. While our attention was turned toward Shanghai—Forbes Travel Guide’s ratings of the city’s hotels and spas will be announced on April 25—we looked into the progress of the budding yachting scene.
Bordered by the East China Sea, surrounded by a series of lakes to the west and crisscrossed by rivers and canals, Shanghai is well suited to become a hub for recreational boating, and locals have taken notice. Visitors will see a slew of new yachts parked in front of Shanghai’s government buildings and members-only clubs. The city hosts an annual international boat show in April, and the 2011 event saw over 1 billion yuan ($159 million) in yachts and related equipment traded over the four days—three times the amount of the previous year, according to organizers.
While steep import taxes give Chinese yacht manufacturers a serious advantage in the Shanghai market, brands such as U.K.-based Sunseeker have swooped in, too—selling super yachts equipped with karaoke systems, disco balls, full-size refrigerators and rear garage hatches to stow dinghies, Jet Skis and other luxe toys. Sunseeker Asia managing director Gordon Hui says that until several years ago, he had almost no Chinese customers. Now the Chinese market accounts for almost 10 percent of the company’s annual production, he says.
Despite the enthusiasm of the city’s wealthy, weak infrastructure for boating is the biggest obstacle, says Huang Zhengang, secretary general of the China Boat Industry and Trade Association. “There are simply not enough slips,” she says.
Between three newly built ports in the city’s Qingpu district and several small ports in the Lujiazui financial district and the quickly developing South Bund area, there are still less than 200 berths along the river. In addition, support facilities needed for yachts—such as gas stations and waste disposal services—are sparse, according to Huang.
Despite the hurdles, yachting in Shanghai is expected to keep gaining popularity. Authorities plan to relax tight restrictions on private ownership of slips, Huang says, while plans are in place for the construction of 11 new yacht piers over the next five years—holding 20,000 boats.