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SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Luxury boat makers are trying to survive the global financial storm by slashing prices and creating bargains for millionaires looking to play off Asia's coastlines.
The mood at the recent Boat Asia show in Singapore, which calls itself Asia's leading leisure boat and waterfront lifestyle event, was fairly dour, in stark contrast to advertisements that showed models drinking champagne on sleek white speedboats.
But compared to last year, the number of visitors was up 15 percent at the event in Singapore, a city-state that has the highest density of millionaires in the world and that is trying to attract more with seafront living.
"If someone is looking for a boat during the financial crisis, this is the best time," said Ong Chih Ching, CEO of Singapore-based hotel and resort firm KOP Group, after buying a 66-ft Sunseeker yacht this year at a 35 percent discount.
"It's not all about being cheap but really about whether or not they can deliver the boat to you, as you keep hearing boat companies are going bust," Ong told Reuters.
Leisure boat firms say they have been forced to cut prices and production as customers delay purchases, leaving them saddled with high operating costs and unsold yachts.
"There's a lot of smaller boat manufacturers that are going out of business and I anticipate you will see more go out of business from now throughout the rest of this year," Dirk Boehmer, director of international sales at Miami-based yacht manufacturer Bertram, told Reuters.
Australian luxury boat manufacturer Maritimo said it expects its sales to fall up to 20 percent for its financial year ending June, and has cut production to 72 boats versus 90 last year.
"There's still a little more of the after shocks to come and a lot of manufacturers out there are just keeping their heads above the water, but certainly we've hit rock bottom in sales," said the firm's sales and marketing director Luke Durman.
The firm's boats cost up to A$4.4 million ($3.1 million) each, and some come equipped with a double bed, karaoke facilities and leather sofas. The event had 60 boats on show.
Some firms, such as U.S.-based Viking Yachts, which says its customers include anglers and people "on top of the food chain," said they expected a recovery for sales next year.
Herman Ho, managing director of the event's organizer TMX Show Productions, said buyers were the kind of people who had gotten a car, a seafront property, golf club membership and who were now looking at resort homes or boats. The show also had booths selling luxury apartments and dive resorts in hidden corners of Southeast Asia.
"I was working very, very hard before the crisis and now I actually have more time," said resort firm owner Ong. "I'm taking time to enjoy myself while waiting for the crisis to brew over and going to the sea is one of the greatest things. If I catch a fish then that's my dinner."
Writing by Neil Chatterjee, editing by Miral Fahmy