U.S. builders attend Colombia show

Posted on Written by Reagan Haynes

With a slower-than-expected rebound in domestic boat sales and continued sluggishness in Europe, some marine manufacturers are looking past traditional markets for opportunities.

For companies such as Regulator Marine, that means heading to the second annual Cartagena International Boat Show in Colombia March 22-24. “We’re reaching out to try to expand into some international markets,” says Keith Ammons of Regulator. “The initial research we’ve done shows that Colombia has some potential.”

Malibu Boats is also looking to beef up overseas sales by attending the Cartagena show, says Drew Halford, who will travel to Colombia with the high-performance boatbuilder. “Malibu is the No. 1 manufacturer of inboard boats in sales and market share in the U.S., [and] we are striving to be the largest exporter of these boats, as well,” Halford says.

“Colombia appears to be an emerging market for the pleasure boat industry, and we want to get in at the ground level,” Halford says. “The Cartagena show gives an opportunity to expose potential buyers to our products, acquire distributors and evaluate the market potential and infrastructure.”

Ammons and Halford represent two of 16 marine companies in the show’s first U.S. pavilion, which is spearheaded by the National Marine Manufacturers Association, as Colombia makes an effort to ramp up its marine industry infrastructure and relationships, says Julie Balzano, who heads up the export program for the NMMA.

“Proexport Colombia has been phenomenal” about reaching out to industry members overseas and showing them what the country has to offer. Balzano says.

“The reason for making this investment is that they really want to put Colombia on the map as a nautical destination,” Balzano says, adding that the NMMA took a Proexport-sponsored delegation to Colombia in 2013 to explore the possibility of creating a U.S. pavilion at the Cartagena show. “It’s a government initiative at the minister level.”

The Republic of Colombia is the fourth-largest economy in Latin America, and its approximately 46 million inhabitants represent the third-largest population. It is the only country in South America with two seacoasts — the Pacific and the Caribbean. As one of the oldest democracies in Latin America, with a middle-income population, rich history and privileged geographic location, Colombia is emerging as a mandatory stop for sailboats, yachts and charters heading through the southern region of the Caribbean Sea. It’s also under the hurricane zone, according to the NMMA, making it a viable alternative during hurricane season.

Colombia now ranks as the 26th-most-important export market for U.S.-made recreational boats and related equipment, up slightly from 2012. Many factors, including a boating-oriented culture, close proximity to the United States, preferential currency exchange rates, a free trade agreement and its current trading status (the United States is Colombia’s No. 1 trading partner) contribute to Colombia’s increasing demand for U.S. boats and equipment, according to the NMMA.

Tourism has experienced remarkable growth, and the government recognizes the need to develop marina infrastructure to meet the growing demand from nautical tourism and domestic needs, the NMMA says. As a result, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism has publicly declared the development of nautical tourism a top priority.

Regulator today has no boats or current dealers in the region, Ammons says.

“We’re going to have a 10-by-10 booth and get a feel for consumers down there to see if people will be interested in the quality boat that Regulator offers,” he says. “Of course, the center console market is a segment that’s showing some decent growth worldwide. We believe the Latin market is going to be the next big boating market, not just in South and Central America, but also in the United States, with the rapid growth of the Spanish-speaking population. That population will be the fastest-growing over the next two decades and Regulator wants to get in front of that.”

The company says it chose Colombia over some other nations because its boats fare well in rough waters.

For Malibu, it was Colombia’s experience with organized water sports competitions, including the hosting of the Cartagena show, Halford says.

“By entering the market early — and by entering I mean having a full-blown dealer in place that can effectively educate buyers, conduct sales events, provide after-sales service, promote and market the brand at the local and regional level — Malibu can set a high standard for water sport boats in the country,” Halford says. “Early entry also allows Malibu to deliver its message to raw consumers.”

“The timing is right now,” Ammons agrees. “This is the first of some sampling throughout some Caribbean and South American regions to see what kind of interest is out there.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue.

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