November 16, 2023
Despite the geopolitical and economic headwinds, Dutch superyacht maker Heesen has sizable orders on its books for delivery through 2027, all aimed for UHNW customers across the globe.
In this discussion with Luxury Roundtable CEO Mickey ALAM KHAN, Heesen Yachts chief commercial officer Mark Cavendish and North America director of sales Thom Conboy analyze trends in the superyacht business, the UHNW customer mindset, sustainability strides, product enhancements and the outlook for the year ahead. Heesen, whose headquarters and shipyard are based in Oss, The Netherlands, produces aluminum and steel vessels in the 50- to 60-meter superyacht range that is typically not the province of first-time buyers.
“We find that a majority of our owners tend to run highly successful private companies,” Mr. Cavendish said. “They are not necessarily names that you would have heard about in a day-to-day context, but they are renowned in their business sectors.”
Please read on for the full Luxury Roundtable discussion:
What is the state of the superyachts business?
Thom Conboy: During and immediately after the pandemic, the superyacht industry saw an unprecedented level of interest and sales activity, stretching across both the brokerage and new build markets.
In 2022, the market started to stabilize and this has continued throughout 2023.
The current geopolitical situation is impacting the global economic climate and this is being felt in the superyacht industry.
Buying a yacht is a serious financial commitment and, as with any significant purchase at any level, global insecurity can cause potential purchasers to pause on their decision.
Despite these headwinds, the superyacht industry remains robust.
Last month’s Fort Lauderdale Boat Show [in Florida] demonstrated that there was still strong interest, especially from American purchasers, in quality products.
Heesen remains in a strong position with 15 yachts under construction, scheduled for delivery through to 2027.
Notably, Heesen is among a select number of shipyards that successfully secured new construction projects in 2023.
How have buyers’ expectations changed in the past decade?
Mark Cavendish: The core reasons why purchasers choose a Heesen hasn’t changed. They are looking for quality, craftmanship, design and a vessel that gives them the freedom to explore the Mediterranean, Caribbean or even further afield.
That being said, we are seeing new trends emerge, particularly as the next generation of buyers enter the market.
Today’s clients are increasingly focused on the blend between indoor and outdoor spaces and ensuring a constant connection to the sea.
This can be seen throughout some of our most recent designs – including 50-meter Project Grace and 67-meter Sparta – which both feature floor-to-ceiling windows in the main living areas and impressive beach-club areas offering direct access to the sea.
There is also a growing demand for more sustainable yachting. This includes both the propulsion of yachts and their design, but also the entire build process.
Heesen acknowledges the imperative for environmental responsibility and embracing innovative practices.
Heesen was the first shipyard to build a superyacht sporting an ultra-efficient Fast Displacement hull combined with a hybrid propulsion system.
Project Orion, the third in this eco-series, is available for sale with delivery scheduled for Q1 2025.
Who is Heesen’s typical customer?
Mark Cavendish: Heesen’s customer base covers a wide range of demographics and nationalities.
We have owners from Northern Europe, North and South America, Mexico, the Far East and the UAE.
We find that a majority of our owners tend to run highly successful private companies. They are not necessarily names that you would have heard about in a day-to-day context, but they are renowned in their business sectors.
As Heesen specializes in the 50-meter to 60-meter range, it is rare that we have first-time yacht purchasers.
A majority of our customers are experienced yachtspeople, who understand the value of the craftmanship and quality of a Heesen yacht.
We also have many repeat clients who are part of the Heesen family and enjoy working through the build process on multiple yachts.
What challenges and opportunities does Heesen see out there in the market?
Thom Conboy: There is no doubt that the [Russia-Ukraine] war in Europe and conflict in the Middle East are having global economic consequences.
In October, the International Monetary Fund predicted that world economic growth will slow from 3.5 percent in 2022 to 3 percent in 2023, dropping to 2.9 percent in 2024.
In this climate all ultra-luxury industries are going to need to focus on their business models and ensuring they are hitting customer demand.
At Heesen, we offer yachts that are series, semi-custom and custom.
We believe this business model and a conservative approach gives us the stability to weather any financial uncertainty.
Our series models are built on speculation, which means we can offer short delivery. There is no one else within the size bracket of yachts that is able to offer a product of Heesen quality, which can be delivered in short space of time, which creates huge opportunities for us in the market.
What is Heesen working on that is innovating and makes it stand out from the competition?
Mark Cavendish: Heesen’s talented workforce pride themselves on innovation and pushing for technological advancements on every yacht they work on.
Some recent developments include its Hybrid Solution, Fast Displacement Hull Form (FDHF) and Hull Vane technology developed by Van Oossanen.
Heesen’s Hybrid Solution combines diesel with electric propulsion to allow for more flexible power management, reduced fuel usage and less noise and vibrations, enhancing the onboard experience.
Every element of this has been designed in-house and this technology can be implement into our new build projects, such as 50-meter Project Orion.
This Hybrid Solution can work hand-in-hand with Heesen’s Fast Displacement Hull Form, which allows yachts to move through the water as seamlessly as possible. This elimination of vertical movement not only makes it more comfortable for passengers, but also dramatically reduces fuel consumption.
The hull design can be further complemented by the patented underwater Hull Vane, which is an underwater wing that improves seakeeping ability and, therefore, means less power is required to propel the yacht. This, in turn, means smaller engines can be installed and allows for a longer range with the same tank volume.
The above features ensure that Heesen can offer customers one of the most efficient and comfortable products on the market.
What marketing do you typically do to attract new customers and how do you retain existing?
Thom Conboy: Heesen only delivers four yachts a year, so we are always focusing on connecting with the few rather than many.
With more than four-decades experience, the quality of our brand is understood across the industry, but we are always looking for different avenues to introduce new purchasers to our product.
We do this through a combined approach of advertising, advertorial, PR strategy and in-person activations.
At the heart of every campaign is our yachts because we truly believe in the quality of our product.
In terms of existing customers, we have a high number of repeat clients who become part of the Heesen family.
We have a renowned after-sale service and, given the limited nature of our product, we know and look after each individual owner.
Just to confirm, how many yachts is Heesen working on and across what price ranges?
Mark Cavendish: Heesen currently has 15 yachts under construction, scheduled for delivery through to 2027.
The next yacht available on the market is Project Jade, which is due for completion in Q2 2024. Once she is sold, the next available yacht will not be available until 2025.
If a contract was signed today, it would take about six months of engineering, then the build would begin and delivery would be in just under four years for a 60-meter-plus custom yacht. The longer, the more voluminous, the more months it will take.
Our yachts range from 50 meters to our recently delivered flagship 80-meter Genesis.
In terms of price range our entry level yacht, Project Jade asking €41.5 million [$45 million].
For our custom builds, there is no top-end in terms of budget, as it is completely tailored to each client’s personal needs and wishes.
What makes a superyacht different from other boats?
Mark Cavendish: Generally, a superyacht is considered to be any yacht 24 meters or longer.
Clearly, there is a huge variation from this entry level to the largest yachts in the world, that are 150 meters and over.
In Heesen’s size range, we offer the luxury for an owner and up to 12 guests to explore the world in total privacy, with dedicated service in a quality vessel. This is what makes a superyacht such a unique proposition.
What sort of amenities are now in for superyachts?
Mark Cavendish: There is really no limit to what amenities you can have on a superyacht, from helipads so that you can be picked up, to heliski remote glaciers in Greenland – as seen onboard the Project XV67 – to cinemas, swimming pools and dancefloors.
One of our most recent deliveries, Ultra G, really epitomizes this. She features arguably the most advanced sportsfish set up ever built on a superyacht, a full DJ set, media room, infinity pool and even a dog relief area with self-flushing “grass.”
The wonderful thing about superyacht design is that it allows owners to choose amenities that work for them, and the lifestyle they are looking for onboard.
Which geographical markets is Heesen looking to target as the level of affluence grows in key regions?
Thom Conboy: Heesen’s client base comes from a wide geographical area, but we always looking at new areas.
Australia and New Zealand have seen a surge in interest in the superyacht sector, particularly since Australia relaxed its restrictions for visiting foreign vessels. This will definitely be an area of focus over the next two years to ensure that customer base is familiar with the Heesen brand.
The Middle East is, of course, also an area of growing importance.
Next year’s Dubai International Boat Show will be a big focus for us, and we are hoping to have a very special presence there.
What is next for Heesen in terms of product?
Mark Cavendish: There are no grand plans for sweeping changes at Heesen.
Instead, we look to constantly work with partners to evolve and perfect our offering. This can be seen through some of our current offerings such as Project Venus, which is a collaboration with Italian designer Luca Dini.
The combination of Dutch technology and craftmanship with Italian flare is an exciting proposition for the market.
Project Grace, which was revealed at the Monaco Yacht Show, represents another exciting partnership with British Studio Harrison Eidsgaard.
With each new yacht design, we continue to excite but also satisfy our client base, with a product that is both functional and beautiful.
We will also continue to push the boundaries with innovation and sustainability. This, combined with our expert workforce in Oss, will ensure that Heesen remains are leader in the global superyacht sector.
In terms of sustainability, what strides are being taken by the industry, and by Heesen?
Mark Cavendish: The superyachting industry is renowned for being a leader in innovation, fine craftsmanship, state-of-the-art technology and bespoke design.
Passionate owners with the resources to invest in innovative technologies have always been a cornerstone of superyachting, and their pioneering approach has transformed not just superyachting but has played a key role in the development of sustainable solutions for the entire maritime industry.
The drive towards zero emissions is well underway, and while there are several steps still to make before yachts or any kind of maritime vessel can be entirely emission-free.
Yachting is taking a lead in the marine sector. There are still significant challenges with the industry, but the efforts incorporate a holistic approach, including a shift toward fossil-free options for power and propulsion. This entails exploring alternative energy sources that reduce environmental impact.
Moreover, there is a growing focus on sustainable build materials and interior finishes, reflecting a commitment to responsible resourcing and manufacturing.
However, like any industry, change comes with new learnings, new tools and at a cost. Time is a necessity in order to implement all these new developments.
Heesen, in alignment with broader superyacht industry trends in sustainability, is actively addressing the escalating climate crisis by acknowledging the imperative for environmental responsibility and embracing innovative practices.
In 2019, Heesen launched BlueNautech, a comprehensive sustainability program unveiled at the Monaco Yacht Show, aiming to reduce yachting's environmental impact.
Heesen also recently invested €1.2 million [$1.3 million] to cover 80 percent of its roofs with solar panels, producing 60 percent of its power needs.
Additionally, by supporting the Water Revolution Foundation, Heesen further solidifies its commitment to collaborative efforts aimed at advancing sustainability practices within the industry. This multifaceted approach reflects not only Heesen's commitment to innovation, but also its proactive stance toward environmental stewardship in the realm of luxury yachts.