Debating independent v. big chains at the World Marinas Conference

Debating independent v. big chains at the World Marinas Conference

The recent ICOMIA World Marinas Conference held in Vilamoura, Portugal, was a superbly organised and highly enjoyable industry celebration. Since professional longevity is a notable characteristic of the marina sector, this was a gathering of long-held friends as much as a learning and networking experience.

I was honoured to be invited to speak on a panel of very reputable names such as Dan Natchez, Roberto Perocchio, Dean Smith and Ingrid Fortunato. Hosted by Shirely Robertson OBE, our remit was to debate the matter of independent marinas versus chains. With big chains gaining visibility and possessing both the financial means and professional expertise to take big steps into innovation and development, where does this leave the smaller independent marinas?

The D-Marin presenting team hailed largely from the world of tourism, where key skills include a strong understanding of customer service, good communication, adaptability, finance, negotiation and of course information technology. This was very much on show at the conference, with expert talks on operational challenges, smart innovation, acquisitions, and a very informed look at current trends from CEO Oliver Dörschuck.

Established consultant Dan Natchez provided an insightful overview of the situation, describing how chains in the US represented ownership of an estimated 10% of the total provision of berths. He described advantages such as financial and operational efficiency and an answer to the problem of succession in family marinas, when the next generation isn’t minded to continue running the business.

Ingrid Fortunato is managing director of Marina de Lagos, one of the visits during Day 2 of the conference where all participants were shown some of the marvellous hospitality for which the marina is known and invited to step on board for a delightful excursion along the Algarve coast. She described the advantages of being a family run marina as the proximity to visitors and residents and the flexibility of being a small company that afforded much more adaptability and agility when it came to dealing with challenges.

Roberto Perocchio, whose marina is already on its third generation, spoke of the resilience that came with having founded an engaged and invested marina community. Marina del Cavallino is located in the Venice lagoon, in a quiet and residential neighbourhood. He also spoke of his work leading and collaborating with industry groups and associations, to further the industry’s interests.

My presentation focussed on the social and cultural capital that marinas generate in their local environment, by cooperating with nearby entities and providing environmental and operational stewardship for their land-sea interface. Compared with larger chains, their institutional memory, having lived through crises and challenges over the years, makes them optimum operators of their individual facilities; building capacity for dealing with future issues such as extreme weather events, etc.

The next ICOMIA World Marinas Conference is set to take place on the Venezia Certosa Marina in October, 2025.