Italian boating grows in double digits, but Made in Italy is under threat

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Pardo VanDutch Shipyard
Cantiere del Pardo is one of the Made in Italy boating companies that has grown the most in recent years

We are the second largest recreational boat manufacturing nation in the world (behind only the United States), we have nearly twenty thousand production centers gravitating around the industry (including boatyards, service centers, accessory manufacturers, etc.), and yet some critical issues could bring the Made in Italy of boating. First and foremost is the lack of skilled labor, a problem common to several sectors of the economy, which has already begun to be felt in the boating industry for some time. But there are other aspects to watch out for as well.

In a panel discussion where representatives of the public and private marine industry participated, among others Marina Stella, general manager of Confindustria Nautica, e Katia Balducci, chief executive officer of Mongoose Overmarine, the latest economic data related to the industry, and strategies for maintaining steady growth in the coming years were discussed.

Exports in Italian boating close to 90 percent

Let’s start by saying that boating in Italy is registering unprecedented numbers, with a record total turnover for 2022 of 7.33 billion and exports worth 3.7 billion in 2023. Most shipyards have their order books locked until 2027, ours are the most popular boats abroad, and the double-digit year-on-year growth recorded from 2018-19 seems to be continuing its trend. However, and both private companies and institutions are well aware of this, even better and even more could be done for the sector, especially through public-private collaboration to which some experiments testify to the feasibility. Most of Italy’s nautical production goes abroad (about 88 percent of what comes out of the shipyards) and we are, with 18.3 percent of exports, leading the rankings regarding recreational boat exports. The main markets remain the United States of America and Europe, although the Middle East and Asia Pacific area has been established for some time now (geopolitical situation permitting). In addition to the geopolitical situation, one must certainly keep an eye on supply chains, which with Covid experienced unforeseen difficulties and showed all the weaknesses of a globalized system at a time of crisis. The trend among the big players in the Made in Italy nautical industry is to make the production process increasingly vertical, centralizing production chains as much as possible and reducing dependence on external sourcing to the bare minimum. To do this, however, requires Italian suppliers to adjust to a much larger than expected volume of production, with major investments and enlargements even in terms of physical space (larger industrial warehouses, for example).

Made in Italy – The craft dimension is disappearing

Why do Italian boats like them so much abroad? Because they combine design, elegance and “know-how,” three elements traditionally associated with Made in Italy, three common factors of a winning formula, in boating as in other segments. An Italian boat is valued for its craftsmanship dimension, which is precisely the dimension most in danger in the future. Indeed, the big problem in the industry is that of generational turnover related to the skilled labor force, which despite having more than 190,000 workers is seeing workers disappear without being replaced by new workers. The problem is common to so many areas, testifying on the one hand to a disconnect between the world of education and the world of work, and on the other hand to a tendency to prefer university careers to manual-craft jobs, which are often considered (wrongly) a profession of inferior status. There is some buzz among public-private connection experiments in this regard. Some shipyards based in Tuscany (including. Mongoose Overmarine, Azimut-Benetti and Perini Navi) have established a pool dedicated to training and, together with the Tuscany Region and to the Institutions of Higher Education, are looking for the best strategies to intervene in training pathways, incentivizing and preparing professional figures increasingly suited to today’s world of work. This is an excellent example of how important it is for institutions to be open to private individuals (and vice versa) and open to “system building” in an industry where competition is fierce.

Sustainability to attract tomorrow’s shipowners

According to a McKinsey study in 2036 (just over a decade from now), shipowners will be younger than today, and those in Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) will surpass Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996). How to make boating appealing to this segment of the public? The watchword is sustainability. We have known and seen this for several years now, Made in Italy shipyards and nautical companies have been among the first to commit to making their production cycle as sustainable as possible. In addition, more efficient fairings have been studied for at least a decade, so as to save fuel, and insulating systems for interiors, to use less energy in cooling/heating processes. Not to mention fiberglass, a material whose end of life is very problematic, and for which many yards are struggling to find a solution. Some by repurposing it once recovered for other production segments (circular economy), some by studying ways to give fiberglass a second life in areas other than the hull, such as furniture. Recall that yachting (understood as recreation) impacts 0.06 percent of global pollution, so it is the energy efficiency of the various production cycles that needs to be kept under the radar. More sustainable boating is not only attractive to tomorrow’s (now today’s) shipowners but also to new investors, who are increasingly attentive to compliance with the strict stakes imposed by supranational organizations in the coming years.

Few marinas and too much bureaucracy

In closing, we can mention a speech by Nello Musumeci – Minister for Civil Protection and Maritime Policy – at the round table, where he mentioned other critical issues of the “nautical system” well known even to institutions. On the one hand, there is the need to have new marinas in Italy, an indispensable driver both to grow local boating and to stimulate and attract arrivals from abroad. On the other, he highlighted the need for a streamlining of bureaucracy in the nautical field, an issue for which a step forward has already been taken with the creation of the CIPOM (Interministerial Committee for Sea Policy) established in late 2022 to coordinate and define strategic goals for the sector. In short, both institutions and companies in the Made in Italy nautical industry are clear about what they need to consider in order to keep the sector in excellent health in the future, knowing that maintaining the growth rates recorded in recent years will be a very difficult challenge.


Le barche made in Italy valgono quasi 4 mld (e un superyacht su due è italiano)


 

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