Steering Digital Innovation in Marina Networks

Steering Digital Innovation in Marina Networks


Today’s rallying cry from global institutions pushes for the tourist industry to embrace sustainable and digital transformation. Whilst still largely registered within the transport industry, marina operational models are often more akin to nautical tourist destinations and yet still rarely reflect the level of customer-centric digital innovation now increasingly commonplace in the travel and hospitality sphere.

The nautical tourism sector is known for being highly heterogenous, due in part to geographical separation and very distinct management profiles and methodology. This lack of operational coherence has complicated the job of advancing a digital agenda with affordable off-the-peg solutions. Correspondingly, the industry has struggled to produce reliable data as regards its economic impact.

Enter centre stage: Pick a Pier, founded by brothers Idan and Asaf Cohen. Dynamic and highly focussed, this relatively new start-up has been quick to step in, having perceived a vast potential for operational optimisation, which they were able to validate upon attending the 2018 ICOMIA World Marina Conference. Their first move was to identify a suitable candidate and start putting theory to practice.

Idan Cohen, Pick a Pier’s CEO, described his team’s objectives: “We wanted to work with an eminent international network to have a good base and positive disposition towards collective innovation, and from a development perspective, a decent range of variants and management systems.”

Fulfilling all these requisites, TransEurope Marinas was a prime candidate, with representation in eleven different countries, including a healthy variety of languages, currencies, and time-zones, and a strong focus on quality services and collaborative interaction.

For its part, TransEurope Marinas was looking to adopt a new digital membership system with members keen to reduce paper use and sensitive to their customers’ increasing reliance on user-friendly smartphone-based communication. A first, but eventually unsuccessful foray into digital development had taken place some years ago, and so there was some reticence, but also a fairly well-informed understanding of the task ahead.

TransEurope Marinas president, Jean-Michel Gaigné, relates the experience:

“A decade ago, we were very lucky to work with some excellent systems specialists, (perhaps too far ahead of the curve in their day) who helped set up a digital membership programme. It is highly possible that no-one anticipated the amount of work, time and expense involved in shaping the service around both boaters’ and operational teams’ requirements and despite producing a workable application, barely half of members finally registered as active users and so regretfully the project inevitably ran out of steam.”

Having chosen their suitable model, Pick a Pier then approached TransEurope Marinas with the offer of a new digital membership platform, transforming the administrational tasks of managing berth-holder membership and offering many additional benefits for both berth-holders and marinas.

Surmising the need to start simple, Pick a Pier has taken the time to conduct countless interviews and visits, paying close attention to what managers need and carefully structuring their products for ease of use.

Idan Cohen recounts the journey so far:

“One of the most significant challenges has been trying to drive a shift in thinking. We started our onboarding process prior to the pandemic (which has of course generated its own strains and concerns), fully prepared for some resistance to operational change, even though our research had reassured us that for the most part, managers recognised digitalisation as an opportunity and logical step forwards.  We’re talking to people who have often spent much of their career in this industry and who are highly aware of their markets and the complexity of their business, which covers multiple disciplines and is particularly sensitive to external conditions, such as weather and tide. Where these managers have been reluctant to consider new systems, it is less a matter of a distrust of technology and more the simple reality of already having to deal with multiple challenges on a daily basis.

Behind the scenes, there is admittedly also something intrinsically analogue about the world of boating, and we shouldn’t lose sight of this. Reconnecting with the most essential elements of our planet - and who we are - is part of the fundamental attraction of getting out on the water.

Some of our initial efforts were dedicated to helping to prepare marinas to incorporate more advanced tech, updating operating systems and identifying existing drawbacks in admin and communication procedures. Data security is of course an issue of major concern and we have gone to great lengths to guarantee GDPR compliance, including anonymising and encrypting personal data, restricting access to personal data and setting up the means to thoroughly test security measures. As part of the service we offer, marinas are also given options to set up additional security features in order to further protect data. This has been a huge learning curve and we genuinely appreciate the chance to develop ideas with experienced managers.

We are now seeing marinas optimising the flow of communication between boaters and admin teams. We understand the importance of personal contact (safety measures notwithstanding) but there’s a big difference between the relationship that can be established once a boater is a long-term berth-holder and is familiar with staff, services and the surrounding area, and the hustle and bustle of high-season traffic with sailors looking to make the most their quality time away and not waste time in queues or waiting for offices to open.

COVID’s impact on the switch to working from home has served as an accelerator in this respect, where the need to offer digital versions of existing services has become paramount. We don’t just want to substitute one for the other, however; it’s about linking services, better informing customers and offering every opportunity to receive constructive feedback.

It has been a fascinating and rewarding journey thus far. We still have a way to go with TransEurope, but members are already seeing results, driving enthusiasm for further improvements.”

TransEurope is naturally delighted with the new system, now accessible for berth-holders via the association’s website:

Further digital initiatives and plans for the future include helping to enrich the customer experience, optimising current operational systems, and working with partners to both develop new features and functionalities that will make boating easier and more accessible, and also create new sustainable and environmental standards that will encourage more boaters and marinas to implement and endorse ocean stewardship and responsible practices.

Find out more about Pick a Pier on their website: