|Sustainable Marina Development|
Southeast Asia has the opportunity to forge a new path in marina development and take a firm step away from the mistakes of the past in the Mediterranean and the ongoing "monster" developments in China now.
According to New Design Associates (NDA) CEO Emmanuel Delarue, "Southeast Asia has many great sites in terms of ecology and landscape and to me we need to preserve this and enhance this identity.
"And in doing this we create something that will attract customers with their unique qualities," he added. This is one area where Southeast Asia can set itself apart and succeed he believes. This will be very different from what is going on now in China where, in much the same way that the worst excesses of an earlier phase of development in Europe produced, there are just long stretches of identical developments with no identity.
However, before that can happen, the traditional model of marina development must be re-examined. "For Southeast Asia, the lesson we can take from China is to avoid the monster development that China is planning at the moment, which is building kilometres of beaches with block after block of identical properties," Mr Delarue said.
He goes on to elaborate that the usual way waterfront property is allocated in China is to divide up the coastline into 10km stretches where the developer has no choice but to build up as massively as possible to earn a return on his investment. Mr Delarue has much experience with the China market, NDA having been involved in nearly a dozen marina and waterfront projects there since its establishment in 1987.
Mr Delarue believes that by breaking the mould and paying more attention to site selection, the conundrum of wanting to build good developments while also turning a decent profit can be resolved. For example, much of the infrastructure cost of building marinas comes from developers wanting to use open beach sites and then having to build expensive breakwaters and other protective barriers. Then to pay for this, the developer has to go big on the waterfront property.
The solution might instead be to find sites which lend themselves to marina development more naturally, he suggests. "In Southeast Asia, where you have natural coves, or the mouths of rivers that could be used as natural harbours, I think we should convince developers and land authorities to exploit these sites more and keep the beaches as they are," he says.
There is a need to break away from the established trends and set new ground. To do this, designers must work hard to convince owners to try new ideas. Of course, from the owner's or developer's point of view they would like to minimize risk and go with a tried and tested formula but for the good of the future of the industry in the region they must try to chart their own path.
The key to doing this is through education, Mr Delarue believes. Firstly, the stakeholders in the local community need to be educated to get their buy-in. Many of the best spots have traditional communities that have lived there for hundreds of years because they discovered the natural advantages of the site. They need to be convinced that development will make their lives better and that they can be integrated into the overall plan instead of just being bought out and displaced because the developers do not think they will fit in with the overall image of their project.
Mr Delarue gives the examples of Portofino and St Tropez in Europe that started off as fishing ports and even today continue to keep their fishing industry alive though they serve more as a tourist attraction. Apart from keeping all parties happy, this serves as an additional draw and the cultural element provides a unique selling point to attract the big revenue generating superyachts. "Part of the identity of the site is the communities that are living there and integrating marinas and waterfront development with the local community is also what will give the site uniqueness," he points out.
Secondly, the local authorities must be convinced of the positive economic impact these marinas can have. Waterfront projects can create value at many different levels. Not only can they liven up an area, they can also build tourism and improve the livelihood of local people through tourism and service industries. However, an understanding must be reached as to what a fair proposition entails.
The developer must be given a fair chance to make a reasonable profit while also helping to bring development to the area. For example, Mr Delarue points out that there have been tenders called for projects in India where the returns offered on huge amounts of expected investment are so miniscule that nobody will ever bid for them.
While he concedes that in highly urbanized areas,
in cities and with downtown marinas it is almost impossible to break away from the waterfront property subsidizing marina model, Mr Delarue believes that in more rural areas where land cost is not so high there is the opportunity to innovate different models of marina development and create something unique. In this final aspect, the developers themselves need to be educated, Mr Delarue says. They are naturally profitoriented, but they can be shown that if they are willing to do things a little differently from what they are used to they can still make money but also create something unique and much more beneficial for the future of the area and the community.
However, one complication with Southeast Asia is that distances between destinations tend to be quite long. In the longterm scheme of things a network of marinas and maybe even charter operators needs to be developed linking all the various spots. While there are interesting spots on their own, many of these are undeveloped and many marinas also function in isolation. For the entire community to grow there needs to be greater cooperation and linkages, especially to cater to the lucrative superyacht market.
Mr Delarue sees potential in countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia with their rich culture and vast sea resources. These in turn could be linked in a network to the Gulf of Thailand destinations further south. The slow pace of development in the region due to bureaucracy or whatever other reasons may be a blessing in disguise as it may allow time and space for more considered development of marinas and waterfront property compared to the rampant, breakneck pace of development in China.
However, for the best outcome all the stakeholders have to realize what is at stake and work for the greater good of all, not just the commercial self interests of the developers. There is much potential and the chance to get it right, but just one or two shortsighted policies and bad deals can make it all turn out horribly wrong, and there are many examples from more developed markets to show just how wrong it can get.