With billions of investment dollars going in to marinas, residential developments and boating infrastructure, the Middle East is poised to become the international crucible of marine business.
Industry experts are unanimous – the leisure marine market in the Middle East has reached a new period of maturity, showing strong signs of growth at both the mass and the luxury ends of the market.
Announcements of new berth openings from companies like Limitless, Nakheel and Dubai Maritime City have also given potential boat buyers incentive to purchase boats.
Luxury superyachts continue to be a star attraction with a list of serious buyers growing every day. Small to medium-sized boats have also seen strong sales. Royal Marine International, distributors of Four Winns, Absolute, Rodman, Chaparral, Robalo, and Wellcraft, has confirmed steady sales since the Dubai International Boat Show in March.
Accessories and other watercraft are also in demand, Jet Skis and Waverunners topping the list as yacht owners look for an added extra for their marine activities and new-comers dip a first toe into watersport.
'It’s no longer an ‘emerging market’,' explains Australian marina consultant, Joe Goddard, who spent three years based in the Gulf and whose projects include Dubai Marina & Yacht Club and currently, the Arabian Canal Project. Goddard spends part of every month working in Dubai for clients including property developers Limitless and ETA Star, plus hospitality consultants TRI as their resident marina expert.
Goddard was responsible for designing and project managing the Dubai’s first modern commercial marina, the Dubai Marina & Yacht Club, boasting many hundreds marina berths and 3.5km of waterfront for which he won on behalf of Emaar Properties the 2007 Arabian Yachting Award for innovation .
Trained as a Naval Architect and Engineer, Goddard has spent almost 30 years adding to his expertise through running the countries largest sailing school and yacht charter company, then the CEO of the world famous Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in Sydney and CEO at Southport Yacht Club on the Gold Coast.
In 2004, when the Middle East waterfront property sector was still in its infancy, Goddard was head-hunted by Emaar Properties who conducted an international search for a General Manager for the Dubai Marina & Yacht Club (DMYC). He was then adopted into the huge Development Department as their marina specialist reporting directly to the Emaar CEO.
One of the largest private yacht clubs in the world, DMYC is an impressive, purpose-built clubhouse with four marinas accommodating 600 boats including superyachts.
Goddard was invited to join the master planning teams developing a number of marinas for Emaar Properties worldwide including Umm Al Quwain Marina in the UAE and King Abdullah City Marina, Saudi Arabia.
With his own company, he is now involved with large scale marine projects in Tunisia on the Mediterranean Sea and The Philippines, and this month is heading to Dubai to work again on the Arabian Canal Project, which, once completed in 10 to 15 years, will be of the magnitude of the Suez Canal.
Goddard has been retained to conduct feasibility studies for five marina facilities along the canal. He has already submitted plans for two and this next stint, he will focus on the subsequent three, designed to accommodate approximately 1000 boats in total.
He is not a 'stock-standard engineer', leaning towards equal parts creativity and business development, which appeals to clients’ appetite for innovation and high-end output, compatible with their IRR.
'My approach is not to be bigger and more ambitious than everybody else. Instead of talking it up, like some consultants will, I am realistic and have a track record of delivering. My forte is to devise plans and management systems that are financially based. The end product has to fit a business plan the client can follow which is financially viable.'
Following the global trend, marinas in Dubai and the UAE are generally centered around residential developments. 'There are a lot of very exclusive integrated living developments going up,' says Goddard. 'They encompass apartments, hotels, landscaping, bike tracks.'
Goddard believes the marine market in the Middle East has the potential to eventually eclipse traditional boating centres, including Australia. 'The professionals there are learning so fast and are dedicated to learning how to operate successfully. They are determined to grow this segment.
'There is an appetite for a better standard across the board, which is why they are outsourcing experts from around the globe. The only thing holding them back is the local market’s comparatively slow take up of boating. As yet, the local people don’t have the boating culture or knowledge, but they are picking it up.'
Dealers and manufacturers in the region, among them Gulfcraft, Western Marine, ART Marine – which was awarded most successful Azimut dealer internationally 2005 and 2006 – and Palm Marine, are doing good business, attracting locals eager to embrace the boating lifestyle, as well as Europeans visiting the region.
Says Goddard: 'The Arab buyers are looking for large luxury vessels and smaller walkaround fishing cruisers. There are a lot of first time buyers and the market is ripe and growing exponentially. While the global financial crisis will have some impact, the region is not directly linked to what’s going on in the US and Europe. It operates autonomously.'
Key to doing business in the Middle East is comprehending and appreciating its peoples’ characteristics. 'They are very good listeners. They’re used to dealing with consultants and acknowledge they don’t know everything about the marine industry. As a rule, they have very good ethics and they are ambitious, forward-thinking and intent on competing on a global scale.'
For his part, Goddard says leading from the top and managing projects 'hands on' are the means of satisfying clients. 'I make sure I am completely across all facets of a project. Most importantly, we create a structured marina management regime.'
Respect for culture, religious considerations and the idiosyncrasies of each segment of society are also vital. 'In my many years of working there, I have a solid network of contacts. The marina industry has tightened up and become very professional – client requirements are very exacting. Companies from the USA, Spain, France and Australia often fly in, guns blazing, and expect to conduct business in a certain way. It’s not a matter of ‘one size fits all’. You need to develop a rapport with the local business community.'
What is a significant positive for development projects, reports Goddard, is that business is relatively free from government intervention. 'Saying that, the bureaucracy in the Middle East can be complicated and sometimes frustrating, but once you know your way around, it can be handled smoothly.'
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