Set against the backdrop of the Dubai International Boat Show, the Gulf Boating Conference took place on 6 March, with the theme “The Evolving Middle East Boating Market.” The conference, chaired by Dr Mohammed Hamdan Al Shamsi, featured several seminars and finished with a trade panel debate.

In his seminar entitled “Promoting the Superyacht experience” HISWA’s (Netherlands Association of Enterprises in Water Recreation) director, Farouk Nefzi explained that as an industry we need to invest in infrastructure to enable easier long distance cruising and address the shortage of berths that could be a future problem as the fleet grows.

Nefzi gave the audience insight into his work with the Dutch government, explaining that there is a stigma attached to the superyacht industry, which many people consider it to be the preserve of a glamorous and wealthy elite. Enlightening the Dutch government, Nefzi has been communicating how important the industry is; contributing significantly to growth, offering job prospects and fuelling innovation. He also urged other countries to follow in the Dutch habit of sharing innovation on non-competitive elements of superyacht production, such as safety features. Nefzi argued that by sharing expertise we would be able to achieve more as an industry.

The audience were then treated to a preview of the slick trailer for a Discovery channel documentary on Dutch superyacht builders. The HISWA director hopes that the six 45-minute episodes will offer the general public more of a positive insight into the industry. He also argued that the superyacht industry could benefit from more extensive marketing, utilizing a different approach by illustrating the lifestyle attached to yachting. He suggested that marketing photography should show families enjoying the yacht rather than the more common artificial and posed shots currently used.

Bruno Meier, director of Art Marinas Dubai, used his speech to offer valuable insight into the growth of marinas in the UCC region, estimating that the number of facilities in the region will increase from 61 in 2012 to 80 in 2015. Although, at present, there are not enough vessels to fill the berths in the GCC, marina developers are bracing themselves for future demand. In contrast, Kuwait is suffering from too few berths and is ripe for development.

Meier explained that marinas in the region are commonly attached to attractive waterside developments featuring malls, hotels and restaurants. But questions were raised as to whether these cosmetically focused marinas would be able to cater for the more rugged needs of a yacht cruising long distance – the region lacks repair and maintenance facilities. It was suggested that smaller boats, which are popular in the Middle East, could be catered for in apartment buildings especially designed with lower floors designated to dry stacks. This would preserve boats from the harsh desert environment.

The conference ended on a high note with the emphasis that the Middle Eastern boating market has been recovering since 2011. A report commissioned by the Dubai International Boat Show found that there was a 40 per cent growth in boat sales in the UAE from 2011 to 2012, and as long as infrastructure grows at the same pace, the region will continue to offer market potential.

Image: The conference took place on the second day of the Dubai International Boat Show