Malta’s thriving yacht sector: how did we get here, and can we sustain growth?

Jo Caruana - 27th July 2019 

Yacht sales have peaked in the last 24 months, and it now remains to be seen whether the economy can maintain this pace

Yachting has now become a €100 million-a-year sector – and one that has recently enjoyed substantial investment in new, much-needed infrastructure.

There is no denying that Malta offers a number of key advantages to yachters in the region – distinguished between the flag, legal, corporate and tax services on the one hand, and the logistical set-up (including marinas, yards, suppliers, agents and the various service providers that cater to yachts physically calling in Malta) on the other.

There has been substantial growth in recent years too. Statistics obtained from Transport Malta in December 2018 point to a total registration of 751 yachts of over 24 metres in length.

Alison Vassallo

Alison Vassallo - Head of the Yachting Division within Fenech & Fenech Advocates

“So, considering the stiff competition faced and Malta’s relatively recent entry in the super yacht arena when compared to the more traditional yachting flags, these numbers reflect stunning progress,” explains Alison Vassallo, who heads the Yachting Division within Fenech & Fenech Advocates, and who has chaired the Yachting Services Business Section (YSBS) of the Malta Chamber for the past four years.

“Today Malta is a world leader in the registration of super yachts, the largest European flag and a leading jurisdiction for the provision of corporate, legal and tax services to both owners and financiers, and this sets us apart among other jurisdictions.”

“And there are lots of benefits to those choosing Malta: we have a strong legal system, there is the historic attractiveness of the flag, there is the legal protection offered to financiers, our concrete corporate and fiscal solutions, and our service providers dedicated to providing unparalleled service. These are all factors that have contributed to Malta’s ascent in the yachting sector.”

Nikki Travers Tauss

Niki Travers Tauss - Managing Director of Esprit Yachting Malta

Niki Travers Tauss, Managing Director of Esprit Yachting Malta and the Vice Chair of the Chamber’s YSBS, echoes Dr Vassallo’s affirmation that the island today has a vibrant maritime economy – especially given substantial recent investment in new, much needed infrastructure. “New marinas have solved the acute demand for berthing space. However, we anticipate that, if the economy maintains this pace, that space will become acute again in the next two years. Thankfully, new projects are on the cards and should address this,” he says.

“Meanwhile, the arrival of the new, much needed, shipyard infrastructure is finally spurring healthy competition among local shipyards, to the benefit of the customers and industry stakeholders. Lifting capacity has dramatically increased with MMH, Palumbo and MIYY all delivering new travel hoists to the market. This increased activity will hopefully renew the international demand for refits in Malta and, in turn, refuel the pace of the establishment of the yacht subcontracting companies that, for the last five years, had dwindled from their peak strength in the 2007-8 period.”

Globally speaking, yachting is also considered to be a buoyant market with growth currently being registered on most continents. “Italy continues to register the lion’s share of this trend and the Azimut|Benetti Group has been named the global largest super yacht producer for the 18th consecutive year, which bodes well for our market and joint interests in Malta,” Mr Travers Tauss continues.

John Huber

John Huber - Chairman of Yachting Malta 

“Yacht sales have peaked in the last 24 months too, and it now remains to be seen whether the economy can maintain this pace.” Speaking broadly, John Huber, Chairman of Yachting Malta – a public private partnership between the Royal Malta Yacht Club and the Government – says he believes some facets of the sector are doing well, while others could be doing better.

“There are the legal issues with the flagging and the financing issues with mortgages, VAT, leasing and so on that we have done very well with and hope to continue with, even after we have modified our law and procedures related to VAT issues,” he says. “We also have more yards in the Grand Harbour and some of them are investing heavily in attracting more super yachts to Malta. However, we do wish that more yachts that visit Malta would spend more nights here, or even, preferably, winter here, and have all their servicing done locally.”

Addressing the fact that yachts are getting bigger and are therefore using different materials, Mr Huber says that the sector seriously needs to take a structured approach to training and excellence in services. “It is paramount that we recommence the apprentice programme in maritime services,” he says.

“Yachting Malta is currently speaking to industry stakeholders and will be facilitating the presence of the Super Yacht Industry Network Malta at the Cannes Yacht Show. We are also trying to get more yacht events to Malta and will continue to support the participation of young sailors in the Euromed Championships.”

With this in mind, Dr Vassallo explains that the yachting sector is one that is constantly evolving – as evidenced by the recent publication of revised guidelines relating to the supply of pleasure yachts that replaced the 2005 mechanism launched by the Maltese authorities.

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Malta’s thriving yacht sector: how did we get here, and can we sustain growth?