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How Indonesia can capitalise on the growing trend of superyachts visiting and exploring the region

Jimmy: Good morning viewers. Here we are on the bridge of M/Y Latitude, a 46-meter superyacht currently in the Forgotten Islands in Central Indonesia. We’re lucky enough today to have onboard the boat as a guest Mr. Bill O’Leary. He is a 30-year veteran of yachting and superyachting in Asia. He is the founder and major content author for The Southeast Asia Pilot and a marine professional who has done many, many projects throughout Indonesia. Good morning Bill.

Bill: Good morning Jimmy.

Jimmy: Thanks for being here.

Bill: My Pleasure.

Jimmy: Bill, here we are in the Forgotten Islands, how do you rate it as a destination for superyachts and how across the board do you think Indonesia is in the spectrum of Asian cruising?

Bill: I rate it as incredibly high on the itinerary for any superyacht in the world to come to this part of the world for fishing, diving and to see the world and the environment as it was maybe 30, 40 or 50 years ago in other places. Remote Indonesia still has some very, very key places where the environment has not been destroyed. For people who are concerned about where to go and to be on their own. More and more superyachts and superyacht owners want to get away from the beaten track of the Mediterranean, the Caribbean or even around here the Thailand and Phuket area is starting to get so many activities and traffic there and just overpopulated with tourism.

These kinds of places we’re the only boat here in this remote part of the southern Banda Sea and we’ve been here a few days and there are just no other boats here, it’s a pristine environment. It’s so hard for everyone to get to, only someone on a superyacht could get here. For me, Indonesia is the jewel in the crown of Southeast Asia and that’s why we put so much effort into the new chapters in the Pilot about Indonesia and where to go and what to do because so many superyacht owners are asking more and more about this region. Because it’s come up and the government is now starting to look at marine tourism as a real resource for the country, these remote regions of Indonesia are becoming more and more on the superyacht landscape for where they want to go so, yes, I rate it as the number one place in the world.

For those superyacht owners who don’t want to just sit and drink champagne on the back deck in Saint-Tropez in Europe and all that or around Florida and the Caribbean. If you’ve got younger superyacht owners with families, with kids and that that are into diving and fishing and snorkeling, these places are just incredible for the amount of abundance and fish life that they have here. It’s incredible!

Number one is the answer.

Jimmy: Thanks, that’s good to know because for you what has been the highlights of this trip so far?

Bill: The diving. The diving has been world-class. It’s absolutely world-class here and it’s better to get away from the Komodo, the Mantaray, the dives there are just getting so overpopulated now with divers. You want to get in the water and there’s no one else around you. Like the last three days here we’ve been searching for the schooling  Hammerheads and we’ve seen them in all three dives, we went to look for them. We just went on a leisurely lunchtime dive yesterday and came across a school of Bigeye Trevally in a big spiral off the… it’s three kilometers deep on one side, on one wall and we were swimming down the one side there and we came across a Whaleshark… A juvenile Whaleshark. It was still about 10 meters and it was with us and we had 70 or 80 meter visibility and we were able to be with this whale shark for 10 minutes. It was just phenomenal.

For me, the highlights are fishing, the big game fishing. The catch and release stuff here is incredible. The amount of game fish, as I say, it’s the most abundant sea in the world, I think the Banda Sea. It just seems to be and even like Palau and Micronesia and those seas aren’t as abundant as this sea for some reason. It’s just a wonderful and incredible place to be but it’s way east and so remote that the only people who can really get here are people who have superyachts.

Jimmy: Okay, but look, the Southeast Asia Pilot is on its sixth edition. What growth areas and what areas are you looking to expand the Pilot’s reach and depth of information that you can pass on to mariners?

Bill: Well certainly from the new regulations in Australia, they look like they’re going to allow superyachts to charter in Australia so we expect a bit influx of boats crossing the Pacific coming that way around the great southern route coming up via Australia Great Barrier Reef doing all that, then hopping up over to Darwin and up through here. Kupang, being the point of entry for the southern part, and then around this ring of fire, around the Banda coming up from Timor and then up through this ring here of these volcanoes that lie on the northwest-southeast part of the Banda Sea.

Then we’re going to really concentrate on building up this part from, say, West Papua all the way Raja Ampat, that top Halmahera. Basically the ring like the Blair brothers did. We’re going to really promote that part of the world because it’s just so fantastic. The superyachts coming and also the cruising sailors coming through this region are all asking for more and more and more about Indonesia.

We’re going to cater to them and just put in more and more information as part of the trip we’re doing here and you being the contributor since the start of the Southeast Asia Pilot for all of the editions. We count on a lot of your knowledge and expertise to help us do that.

Jimmy: Well thanks. That’s why we’ve worked together so well! You have been coming to Indonesia since the late 80s. You captained Stormvogel in through Bali at that time and went on to Thailand. You’ve been coming back here cruising with both this boat and other boats. What do you think would be the main thrust that the Indonesian superyacht industry needs to do t enhance or to promote itself for superyachts to come to Indonesia?

Bill: Well, I think that maybe just forming a group, a lobby group, from the top-down these things have to intrinsically come from the top-down, the same in Thailand lowering the tax had to come from the top-down. I think here is to maybe get a small group of dedicated agents and people involved in the industry, people who are supplying the superyachts as they come through with all of their needs.

Maybe setting up a small active group to get to the highest levels of government to let them know that the resources that they have here for yachting in the area and for bringing tourists in are very, very high end, high net-worth individuals, and bringing them in. This resource is like oil and gas to them. It’s like the minerals that they’re bringing out of the ground. It’s like the oil and gas that they have.

It’s a natural resource but it’s completely untapped at the moment. A little bit worrisome is what’s going on around Labuan Bajo with just the amount of liveaboards everything is completely unregulated. The safety is not really up there. There’sd b so many things that can be done to enhance the guest experience across the whole region but my advice would be for someone in the higher governments or the harbor departments or the ports or even the armed forces, the Navy, to get involved in banning bombing, all kinds of trawler fishing, really come down hard on the shark fin trade and the clam trade. People that are just robb, raping and pillaging the oceans around here. I think there has to be a lobby to try and get some political will at the top end to help control all of that and control the exhausting of the natural resources under the water because they have an incredible amount of draw for tourism in the future.

In fact, they should be the most tourist-centric country in the world for the resources that they have as far as tourism goes but of course the infrastructure and the political will and the nature of this part of this world it’s very difficult to get things done so I’d say start from the top-down.

Try and get the government to get involved and see.  Get them to Australia, get them to the Caribbean, get them to the Mediterranean and have a look at how it can be done properly.

Jimmy: Well I’m glad you’re bringing up the infrastructure. From your vast time in Asia, you were in Thailand when Thaksin abolished the tax on luxury vessels.

Bill: Yes.

Jimmy: You’ve also for the last eight years been working for the Malaysian government on their marine planning and in particular yacht marinas.

Bill: Yes.

Jimmy: As you’ve seen in Indonesia there is no superyacht marinas at this point in time.

Bill: Still not now.

Jimmy: What would you say is the best direction forward for that?

Bill: Definitely I think there are at least five superyacht marinas that should go in in the next couple of years to really capitalize on the number of boats that will be coming and they should go in the five areas that are best. Probably north, south, east, and west really as you’re coming across the eighth parallel there and if they were built by the government they would be a great catalyst, they won’t make money per se but they’ll be a big draw for superyacht captains who are the most people to get to do cruising itineraries are the captains.

Us guys we want to know what’s there? Can we get shore power? Can we get water? Is it easy to get goods, provisions, on and off? Can we fly guests in, can we fly crew out? Can we change this, can we change that? We need to be alongside a dock, a wood dock, with power and water and infrastructure close to an airport. If Indonesia itself just concentrated on spending the money in the best places, to get the best advice of where to do that, then the catalytic money that goes out in the community would phenomenal. I think the studies have been done. 1 dollar spent on a superyacht equals 10 dollars out in the community.

You’d have land values rising. You’d have more inbound flights. People need to supply goods and services to each of the docks, and they will come to and from the marina, so you need a good road into it. You need to have good surveys done for the area so that you could start from the top down, and just go from big superyachts down to smaller cruising yachts.

Jimmy: Look, viewers, we’ve been very privileged to be on board Latitude with Mr. Bill O’Leary, vast experience and a wonderful guy to boot. Thank you for your time, Mr. Bill.

Bill: Thanks, Jimmy. My pleasure.

Jimmy: Looking forward to having him back in Indonesia as soon as possible.

Jimmy Blee

Jimmy Blee

Owner and founder of Asia Pacific Superyachts Indonesia and a regular contributor to South East Asia Pilot.

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