‘Vast opportunities’ await in South Korea

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NMMA tour leader learns of new marinas, interest in joint manufacturing relationships with U.S. builders


During the week of June 6, Mark Adams, vice president of sport shows for the National Marine Manufacturers Association, led a small group of NMMA members — including Jeff Ellis, vice president of sales for Chris-Craft, Geoffrey Van Gorkom, owner of Van Gorkom Yacht Design, and Craig Ritchie, editorial director for Formula Publications — to explore the recreational boating market in South Korea and attend the Korea International Boat Show. The following is an excerpt from Adams’ journal.

June 6: I arrive at Incheon/Seoul International Airport at 6 p.m. local time. That is 2:30 a.m. the same day in my hometown of Kirkwood, Mo. My trip to South Korea has begun.

The NMMA sent me here to assess the market on behalf of our members and understand if we should be hosting a U.S. pavilion at the Korea International Boat Show. We put out an invitation to all members to go along with us and see for themselves if there are opportunities here they should be considering. The South Korean government offered to pay half of the airfare and hotel for any member accompanying us on the trip. Three members took us up on the offer and will be meeting me at the hotel.

As I clear customs and baggage claim, I meet Lee, a 30-something Korean man who will be my guide. We head to nearby Suwon, and during our hour drive south toward the hotel I notice we are surrounded by intense traffic and a booming city life. Everything appears to be post-Korean War construction; development is strong and very dense. The air is heavy with atmospheric haze, most of which seems natural and related to the proximity of the Yellow Sea and the oncoming monsoon season.

On the drive, I notice most cars and trucks are Kia, Daewoo or Hyundai, and I assume trade protectionism is alive and well in Korea. I later learn that the import market has liberalized in recent years. What I was seeing was a great pride of Koreans buying Korean-made products.

June 8: We depart in the early morning on a two-hour bus trip south to the Korea International Boat Show site. The show’s opening ceremony features speeches from Gyeonggi-do Province Gov. Moon-Soo Kim and an official ribbon cutting.

I tour the show and take part in an afternoon boat tour of the local harbor. There are four new marinas being built in this part of Gyeonggi-do Province — a very ambitious plan that will create more than 2,000 slips in state-of-the-art harbors, including major residential and entertainment developments. I notice right away there is growth happening in recreational boating here, with vast opportunities for U.S. boat manufacturers.


June 9: I tour more of the boat show and give a presentation on the U.S. boat market, sharing key learnings about boat shows with a large group of South Koreans in the boating industry and those interested in growing it, including Gov. Kim. I notice he’s taking a lot of notes, a sign my presentation is well-received.

June 10: The next day the group heads to the Hyundai Motor Group to tour Hyundai Seasall, the company’s marine engine division, which manufactures diesel inboards. Hyundai’s Seasall engines range in horsepower from 125 to 450. One of the company’s principal engines is the V-6 3.0 diesel.

Currently, Hyundai’s business is 90 percent export and 10 percent domestic. The company would like to adjust that ratio. We meet with international operations director Ted Fagerburg, international sales team manager JeongOk Kim and president and CEO SeungKab Jeong.

Ted and JeongOk note that at their exhibit at the boat show they’ve had serious conversations with distributors from Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Sri Lanka. Korea in general does a lot of business throughout the Middle East and operates many Middle Eastern construction projects.

Next we tour the Gyeongin Canal. This 18-kilometer waterway is incredible, stretching from the Han River, near downtown Seoul, to the Yellow Sea. Both ends of the canal have locks and dams under construction. The marina near the Han River is Gimpo Marina, and the one near the Yellow Sea is Incheon Marina. Fifteen new bridges are being built over the Gyeongin Canal, which will officially open in October, directing boaters closer to the waters of the Yellow Sea. These two marinas are part of a group of 43 being built within the next six years.

June 11: The highlight today is dinner with Gun Young Kim, the director general of the organizing committee for the Korea International Boat Show. Kim works for KOTRA, the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency. We speak of creating new opportunities for South Korea with North American recreational boat manufacturers. He notes that South Korea is eager for North American boat manufacturers to sell their products in South Korea and enter into joint manufacturing relationships with South Korean boatbuilders.

I learn that there are an estimated 7,000 boats in South Korea. The future is very bright to grow this number. Korea has a very stable and large middle class that needs to receive much information about boating. They need to learn about water access, marina and slip availability, and which boats meet their recreational needs. Korea is ripe for a Discover Boating education movement. And with their state-of-the-art marine facilities and slip capacity, this is a market ready for new boats!


June 12: This is the day I say goodbye to South Korea and return home. It is also my birthday. Because of crossing over the dateline, my birthday will be 38 hours long this year. I have many fond memories of the people I have met with here. The Koreans are a very vibrant, intelligent and hard-working people with a keen interest in North American recreational-boat manufacturing.

June 13: Back in the NMMA St. Louis office, I’m a bit tired but excited about what I’ve just experienced in South Korea. The trip has opened many doors for the NMMA and our members, a relationship we’ll continue to nurture and explore for future international growth for U.S. and Canadian boat, engine and accessory manufacturers. And after learning about the opportunities for us in South Korea, we decided we’ll be hosting a U.S. pavilion next year during the Korea International Boat Show and encouraging our members to explore this market in the years to come. n

For information on Adams’ South Korean trip and next year’s U.S. pavilion at the Korea International Boat Show, contact Melissa Gurniewicz at mgurniewicz@nmma.org.

This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue.


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