The Roman Fightback

The fortunes of the marina sector in Italy have unfortunately mirrored those of the country as a whole, due partly to the economic downturn and partly due to the response by the Italian Authorities  – increases in VAT, aggressive fiscal controls and increased fuel taxes.

All over Italy berth occupation rates have been tumbling. Statistics from the Italian Observatory of National Boating make very grim reading, by July 2012, six months after a mooring tax was first announced 36,000 berth holders had fled Italy.

Perversely this dramatic downturn in numbers has occurred during a time of unprecedented growth in the number of marinas in Italy. In 2009 there were 525 marinas in Italy and by 2012 that number had risen to 546. Half this number targeted the under 24m local market – especially in Sardinia and Sicily.

The new marinas have tended to focus on the quality of facilities as their main Unique Selling Point, particularly in the south (where they are keen to attract yachts from the north) where rates are also cheaper.

This market imbalance will surely have a consequence. Losses have arisen as the slump hits the balance sheets of the marinas with total losses for the sector estimated at hundreds of millions of euros.

New Initiatives for a New Era

However despite the continuing economic turmoil and the actions of the increasingly officious Tax Authorities the industry is making moves to fight back and turn the situation around.

“Our ability to move forward on our own regardless of the general situation is not in question,” said Anton Francesco Albertoni, the President of the Italian Marine Federation in an interview to Marina World. “After all, even when the nautical industry showed growth, this was not due to any policies that were targeted in our favour!”

Traditionally, Italian marinas were occupied by Italian boats – the domestic market was buoyant and there was no great need to market the marinas abroad. This has led to a situation where only 15% of the vessels in Italian marinas are foreign – the plan now is to raise that figure to around 30-35%.

Some hope comes from government in the form of some tax relief and the establishment of a Central Electronic System for boats but a huge hurdle remains the 21% VAT imposed on all activities; comparing unfavourably to neighbouring France even after their recent imposition of a 9.8% VAT.

In order to encourage more overseas yachts to visit and stay for a period of time many Italian marinas are emphasising their role as centres of sporting events, cultural occasions and entertainment. Staging sailing events is a popular solution as is expanding the real estate offering and retail facilities.

Foreign investment too continues to flow into the Italian marina sector. Camper and Nicholsons have opened Marina Cala Ponte in Puglia, designed to world-class standards and featuring 320 berths. To the north MDL Marinas has undertaken the contract to manage Marina del Gargano, a 750-berth facility for boats up to 60m. The company expects a return on the €54 million invested will take about ten years and recognises that attracting foreign owners is vital to profitability – the domestic market is not coming back soon.

“We want to bring out all that is typically Mediterranean and sell it to the European market, to become a place where things happen with Italian savoir faire and Auplian hospitality,” commented Mario Sozio for MDL Marinas.

They too plan to use events such as a vintage car rally to create an impressive 2013 event calendar (funded to the tune of €350,000!) that will attract year round demand for moorings.

It seems to be paying off, revenue from transient vessels is up 20% as overnight stops became weekly visits. Furthermore uptake for permanent berths has also increased with a doubling of two-year contract uptakes and the level of uptake in the new seven-year contract reflecting the newfound confidence of the management team.

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