Paolo Vitelli manages to spare only a few weeks of the year for sailing in the south of France. After retirement, the 62-year-old chairman of Azimut-Benetti plans to spend more time at sea. Vitelli started with a sailing boat charter service in 1969. Now the head of the world’s largest producer of 24m-plus yachts, Vitelli was in India to unveil Azimut’s new 120ft yacht at the Mumbai International Boat Show last month. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Is there an Indian yachting market?
We consider India a strategic market. It’s no more an emerging market, it’s a sure, realistic and certain market. Why? The amount of wealth in this country is increasing rapidly; secondly, you have a beautiful coastline, and Indians appreciate beautiful things. Indians also like the water, unlike (the) Chinese. We think we are just on the edge of big success. For the past four or five years, yachting was being talked about, now it has become a reality.
Yachtsman: Vitelli says unlike the Chinese, Indians like the water. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
Selling boats must be harder than selling luxury cars in India. How do you convince your prospective customers?
Yachting started later than buying cars and it’s more difficult because the sea is more difficult than the road. There’s no other holiday as enjoyable as along the coastline, no other way to stay with friends or family than in the ambience of a boat for a weekend. There is no other way to do pyaar (romance), as on a boat. (Aristotle) Onassis taught us how it’s good to do pyaar on a boat. If you enjoy swimming, being with family, or making pyaar, the boat is a perfect tool. For that, you must be able to use it. The last element to convince Indians to buy yachts will be quickly providing marinas. We can provide service, but we can’t service a boat in the middle of the ocean.
What are maintenance costs for a year in India?
The international standard for maintenance is 5% the cost of the boat. In India, considering lower labour cost, it is 3% (prices for Azimut yachts start at Rs2.5 crore).
Do Indians buy boats and anchor them in the Mediterranean?
Yes. A very prominent person in India has parked his boat in the Middle East and will soon move it to the Mediterranean. A couple of Indian families keep their boats in Côte d’Azur. Not as much as the Russians, where 70% of buyers keep their boats in Côte d’Azur, but 5% of Indian buyers keep their boats there and in the Med. If an Indian buyer takes delivery of their boat first in the Mediterranean, they can spend the first season there, going to Capri, Portofino, Sardinia and Corsica to test the boat. Then come to us for the final check and come to India when the boat is proven. A couple of Indian buyers have already done that.
Do Indian buyers know navigation?
Not at the moment, because you use captain and crew here. I was trying to convince an Indian owner who is upgrading his boat to navigate himself because it gives you so much pleasure. He promised me that he will get a licence. You can still have a crew on board but you can decide your course and have the pleasure of arriving at the destination as the captain.