Italy’s boatbuilding boom

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It was a strong year for both the Genoa Boat show and Italy’s boatbuilding industry. Credit: Peter Nielsen

It was a strong year for both the Genoa Boat show and Italy’s boatbuilding industry. Credit: Peter Nielsen

(Genoa) The 59th edition of the Genoa Boat Show wraps up tomorrow, after getting under way on September 19 in typical Italian style. The show had a lavish opening ceremony with a sail-past by a navy frigate, with white-clad sailors saluting as the national anthem played and Italy’s flag was hoisted.

Genoa had once been Europe’s premier fall boat show, but lost the title to the Cannes show over a decade ago during the worst years of the recession. While the Cannes extravaganza, which took place last week, became the opening international event, Genoa faded. Its decline came with the economic woes of its boating industry, which experienced multiple bankruptcies, changes of ownership of leaders like the Ferretti Group, and near failures of marine equipment firms that survived only by moving into the export market.

But the industry, buoyed by global sales, has reinvented itself. Genoa has been on the upswing over the last five years and this year’s edition was the best-attended in more than a decade, with a record number of 986 exhibitors and 1,000 boats. There was simply more of everything: sailboats, powerboats of all descriptions and shoreside exhibitors.

UCINA’s Boating Economic Forecast at the Genoa Show. Credit: UCINA

UCINA’s Boating Economic Forecast at the Genoa Show. Credit: UCINA

Carla Demaria, outgoing president of UCINA, Italy’s marine trade federation, said during Genoa’s annual Boating Economic Forecast conference that the increased presence of foreign companies and general uptick in exhibitor numbers were both signs that the Italian industry was rebounding.

Demaria and Serio Cecchi, UCINA’s incoming president, released market data for 2018 that illustrated the growth of the industry. The 40 edition of the association’s annual data, called Nautica in Cifre, said that the boating industry had an economic impact of $4.7 billion (4.27 billion euros) in 2018, up 10.3 percent compared to 2017. It’s the fourth-double digit increase in as many years. Compared to 2013, the industry’s economic impact has risen by 75 percent.

More than 60 percent of Italian marine companies are expecting annual sales to be up again this year.

There were a record number of boats at this year’s show. Credit Peter Nielsen

There were a record number of boats at this year’s show. Credit Peter Nielsen

Direct employment, or fulltime job hiring, was up 13.8 percent in 2018 compared to 2017, to 22,310 workers. Italy’s boating industry tends to employ many contractors instead of fulltime workers. The industry’s contribution to Italy’s GDP was 2.02 percent, a 10.6 percent increase compared to the previous year.

The domestic industry was up 10.7 percent in 2018 and boat production was up 15.2 percent, according to the data. Shipyards were the largest contributors to the domestic industry $3.-2 billion (2.75 billion euros) or 64.5 percent of total sales, followed by accessories $1.28 billion (1.16 billion euros) or 27.1 percent and motors $3.93 million (358 million euros) or 8.4 percent of the total.

According to ITC-Comtrade data, Italy was the world’s second-largest exporter of recreational boat/yachts in 2018, with 13.2 percent share of the global market, behind the Netherlands and well ahead of the United States (9.8 percent). Italy’s export numbers were up 16.1 percent from 2017. About 24 percent of these exports went to the United States, which is why most of Italy’s boatbuilders are keen to increase their profiles in North America.

The country remains number one in the exports of yachts over 79 feet (24 meters). This year there are 379 superyachts on order or under construction, with an average length of 121 feet (37 meters), more than three times as many as the second-placed United Kingdom.

In 2018, Italy was the sixth-largest exporter of sailboats, with a 3.7 percent share of the global market against leader France’s 34.2 percent. Italy falls way down the list of outboard-boat producers, with 1.8 percent share of the global market compared to the United States’ industry-leading 33.3 percent.

The Italian industry looks to be on course to exceed all these numbers in 2019. “In the first semester of 2019 exports grew by 28 percent, a very significant figure,” said Caro Ferro, president of the Italian Trade Agency, at the conference.

Sailboats remain a mainstay of Italy’s national boat show. Credit: Peter Nielsen

Sailboats remain a mainstay of Italy’s national boat show. Credit: Peter Nielsen

Incoming UCINA president Saverio Cecchi noted that after four years of growth, Genoa’s 986 exhibitors and more than 1,000 boats represented a new record. He also pointed to the strong sales year in 2018.

“The figures announced today confirm that our sector is the sector the government needs to focus on in order to drive the economy and employment,” Cecchi said, pointing to the industry’s 20-percent gain in full-time employees.

The government was listening. Italy’s Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Ivan Scalfarotto, who attended the opening ceremony, noted the industry’s success in exports. “The government will remain close to this industry that contributes so much to Italy’s global fame,” he said during the conference. 

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