Customers, culture, comms and carbon
The 2023 ICOMIA World Marinas Conference (IWMC) held at the Tivoli Conference Centre in Vilamoura, Portugal in October was hailed as one of the most successful events in the long-running series to date. Hosted by the Portuguese Association of Ports and Marinas (APPR) and expertly moderated by professional broadcaster Shirley Robertson, IWMC 2023 was held over three days and attracted more than 350 delegates from the international marina community.The opening session was attended by Maria do Céu Antunes, the Portuguese Minister of Agriculture and Food, the Secretary of State for Fisheries, the Vice-Mayor of Loulé, the president of the Algarve Tourist Board and other national dignitaries. Isolete Correia, president of APPR and CEO of Vilamoura Marina, opened the proceedings.
Although technology and its advantages played a major part in the conference discussions, emphasis was placed on the importance of people right from the outset. “Recreational boating enriches people’s lives,” said ICOMIA president Darren Vaux. “It’s not about ‘boats’ but about the sense of calm evident in being in and around the water – the increase in well being and the physical benefits. Recreational boating matters, and thus marinas matter.” ICOMIA Marinas Group (IMG) chair, Martinho Fortunato, took up the baton: “Industry must focus on people and not just technology. It’s very important to keep this in mind.”
With “people” on the agenda, keynote speaker Bill Yeargin, president/CEO of Correct Craft, Inc spoke about the economics of culture, and the need to establish team-building and core values that act as continual guidelines. “Leaders need to be energisers and provide clarity,” he said, encouraging broader horizons, team projects and constant communication and honing of the cultural objective. “Culture is not an expense but a high-return investment,” he stressed, and it’s vital to be “a learner and not a ‘knower’.”
Retaining staff is also, of course, a key issue and a global concern. Yiannis Kalogerakis, CEO at JMK was forthright. “Many marinas today are over-managed and under-led. People leave people not marinas.”
The customer base
“Marinas will be the hospitality hubs in the future and offer a marina ‘guest’ experience – let’s not call them ‘customers’,” urged Kalogerakis. But what of the new ‘guests’?
“Your new customer will not be an old salt but someone who’s made a swift decision to just try boating,” noted Superior Group CEO John Hogan. And these swift deciders may well come via a Boat Club route.
According to Arturo Gutierrez, general manager (EMEA) for Freedom Boat Club (FBC), one in five club members graduates to boat ownership. FBC currently has 5,000 boats and 90,000 members and is welcoming increasing numbers of women and young people into its fold. There are significant financial advantages in having a Boat Club on a marina site and FBC sees a trend towards the marina being seen as a destination. In terms of demands, “people want to be more responsible and sustainability is important to them,” he said. “They also enjoy having a personalised experience on the water.”
This customer trend is backed up by Joana Glória, founder of the Lagos Digital Nomads Community and Femke Irik, founder of SeaBookings. “We’ve seen a huge difference in tourism after COVID. We notice people are more into experiences (some have sold properties, cars etc and can work anywhere). We organise events that connect like-minded people,” Irik explained.
Charter also takes centre stage. “Charter is the most relevant platform for all of us for the future,” asserted Boot Düsseldorf director Petros Michelidakis revealing that, compared to 2020, there is a significant rise in the amount people are prepared to spend. In 2021 the average weekly spend was €4,267 and this is up by 32%. According to Sail Croatia, the most popular charter destinations in the world are Croatia (over 38%); Greece (over 28%); Italy; Turkey; EU other; Spain; France; and the Caribbean.
Digital technology plays a core part in our lives and, while marinas need to adopt ‘smart’ approaches and make best use of data, the message is clear that the customer is king. “Customers are more demanding. Mobile phones connect them and customers are self-confident and want to interact. They are in control. They book online, get instant confirmation and pay immediately,” said D-Marin CEO Oliver Dörschuck.
Smart marinas give us sensors, data analytics and other technology that collects, analyses and monitors data. Amongst other things, this can be used to optimise berth utilisation, manage energy consumption, monitor water quality and track weather conditions. “We can use these to create customer experience with ‘real’ online booking and payment, real time weather updates and on-demand concierge,” Kalogerakis noted.
It’s all about flow said Elsa Nicol, CEO of tech company Falco, whose platform integrates with management software and booking software and has digital apps to make things flow between. “We need to automate the things that least affect the customer experience,” she observed. Idan Cohen of Pick-a-Pier expanded: “We must change pretty much everything at the back end. We need to deliver the best customer experience, and the systems need to be accessible without huge cost. We need to work together to develop networks, and we need a balance between digital and human interaction. It’s also important to collect the data that works for you. It doesn’t have to be a costly exercise.”
Tone Britovsek of IRM/Marina Master believes the future will comprise a mix of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Kalogerakis warns that “the current AI is child’s play in comparison with what’s coming.”
Balance is the key. “Some tech is important but if we don’t have human contact we are going to lose a lot. Being automated may be impressive but while clients appreciate the tech they also like having people to look after them during their stay,” said Isolete Correia. Stavros Katsikadis, managing director Lamda Marinas Investments, emphasised: “Smart technology has become essential but we need to listen, change, learn. We need to think about remotely controlled systems in marinas, i.e. things that are moved without people. Will there be fewer accidents? Technology is coming, and it’s coming fast.”
What is the life expectancy of a marina? “At Vilamoura we can say it’s over 49 years but I’ve seen marinas completely break apart in weeks,” observed Michael Sigvardsson, CEO SF Marina. The golden rules, he said, are to put the right pontoon in the right place; put the right boat size on it; and the right size and load of accessories. Maintenance is also crucial. “A maintenance action that is not logged doesn’t exist,” he warned. “Selecting products that have a very long maintenance interval is very profitable.”
Patrick Lindley, CEO Grupo Lindley, advised opting for “the smallest environmental impact and the best investment in quality.”
Michael Shanley, president Golden Marine Systems, called for higher piling specifications when installing floating dock systems in hurricane risk areas and the need for forward-thinking on marina designs that will survive severe weather patterns. Speaking about the devastating effects that Hurricane Ian had on marinas in Fort Myers Beach, Florida he said “we are four to five years away from getting it sorted. We sustained $109 billion in damages in what was the deadliest hurricane in Florida since 1935.”
In terms of drystack infrastructure, Oscar Siches pointed to “permits” as the bottleneck for the future as he ventured: “Will we cover them with vegetation? Build them underground? Will they be totally electric with absolutely no noise? They will definitely be architect-designed, and the buildings will have additional use.”
“The key for the future is being very, very flexible. We are just ‘handling’ it now but we need to make sure our equipment is adaptable or can be easily traded or recycled,” he also noted.
Fuel and the environment
“A decarbonised boating future will evolve from a set of technologies and fuels already available. Some technologies are more adequate for some vessel sizes, uses, ambient conditions etc., in the short and long term. A mix of propulsion systems is envisioned,” said Ian Dobson of PIANC.
Assessment of future fuel infrastructure, electrical supply and cabling, insurance implications and funding implications are major considerations under review in a “science without fear or favour” decarbonisation study being carried out by Ricardo, UK. The study was outlined by Darren Vaux on behalf of ICOMIA,which will launch a Sustainability Report at Metstrade.
Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of the US National Marine Manufacturers Association spoke on how to align decarbonisation policies. “We have to have cradle to grave data as we are facing regulation by ideology. We have to stay ahead of the regulatory sector where decisions will be made by judging other sectors, e.g. automotive.”
“Good marine public policy doesn’t choose a single technology. It supports innovation and the best carbon reduction strategy by use case. Boats are built to last. Fleet replacement takes 25 to 40 years based on product lifecycles. Accelerating fleet replacement adds CO2.”
“We need to prioritise infrastructure for the distribution of sustainable fuels. This will achieve an instant and industry-wide carbon reduction of 28% for the entire fleet.”
Brands and owners
The rebranding of marinas as “tourist destinations” formed a central conference theme most specifically because, as tourism assets rather than general infrastructure, marinas will not only receive the acknowledgement they deserve as valuable players in the tourist sector but be in a stronger position to resolve concession issues.
Building marinas as ‘destinations’ from the outset sends a strong message to government. Ra’anan Ben-Zur of Porto Habacoa in the Bahamas is doing just this. The superyacht-specific resort that is scheduled to open in 2026 has not only been built from the ground up as a superyacht facility but, as he revealed at the conference, flexibly designed to welcome small cruise ships.
“The brand of a destination communicates values (sustainability, smartness) and marinas have to be aligned and be carriers of them,” said Alfonso Vargas Sanchez, Andalusian Academy of Regional Science. Oliver Dörschuck endorsed this. “As an industry, we need a strong voice, and innovation needs different people. We have to attract and retain talent, and build effective alliances and consolidations to create stronger brands.”
Such consolidations can be found in the rise of marina chains and the advantages they have brought to the marina sector, e.g. capital, synergy of operation and effective buying power. Marina consultant, Dan Natchez, noted: “They have raised prices in an industry that is traditionally underpriced. We are somewhere between 30 and 50% underpriced. The hotel industry has shown that it can raise its prices and as a result can fund improvements.”
Independent marina operators, representing by far the bulk of ownership in the private sector, also have significant strengths. “We feel the advantage of being independent is that we are quick to make decisions and to react. I feel we are closer to our town and our community. Continuity is better with independent marinas,” said Ingrid Fortunato, manager Marina de Lagos. Melanie Symes, secretary of TransEurope Marinas noted: “Independent marinas are optimal operators of their own space. They build a cultural capital and this gives them strength and resilience.”
Roberto Perocchio added: “We recognise the value of the chains and their wonderful economy of scale. They can make big digital investments and access funds more easily but at Marina del Cavallino, where we are now third generation owners and operators, we think a port needs a face. It is also paramount that we have a strong link with our marina association and we need to be flexible and customer-oriented.”
IWMC 2023 had a broad reach to cover ‘big challenges, big opportunities, big decisions’ – and it suitably concluded by highlighting what must surely be the world’s most ambitious ongoing infrastructure project – Neom. A new landscape in Saudi Arabia, Neom will feature at least 12 coastal marinas, the first of which is Sindalah. Chief environment officer, Prof Richard Bush, outlined the vast scale of Neom, which covers a land area the size of Belgium, and described it as a “beautiful challenge”.
[p15]In and around the innovative major city of The Line, Neom development will be restricted to just 5% of the total area, leaving the remainder as national park. This will be the subject of re-wilding projects and reintroduction of animal species. “We plan to deliver a real liveable city by 2030,” he said, “where humanity and nature can thrive.”
The above article highlights content from amongst 72 presentations. Additional articles covering topics in greater depth will appear in future issues.