“What’s Ahead for Marinas?” 56th Annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show® Press Conference Recap: Industry Experts Cite Regulation and Need to Build the Next Generation of Boaters as Top Two Challenges

The 56th Annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show® kicked-off bright and early on Thursday, November 5 with a media breakfast at the Bahia Mar Hotel. More than 100 reporters from around the globe came to hear a panel of marina owners and developers  explore the question, What’s Ahead for Marinas?

Hosted by Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III, CEO of Show Management,and moderated by Bill Sisson, editor-in-chief of Soundings Trade Only and Anglers Journal, the esteemed panel of five industry leaders included:

  • Mehmet Bayraktar, CEO and chairman, Flagstone Property Group;
  • Robert Christoph, Jr., president of operations of RCI Group;
  • Bert Fowles, vice president of marketing and sales for Island Global Yachting Marinas
  • Raymond Graziotto, president and COO of Seven Kings Holdings/Loggerhead Marinas, and Steve Ryder, manager of project development for Bellingham Marine Industries.

Among the topics discussed was the growing trend of designing or upgrading marinas to be more than points of departure or places where people dock their boats. “People don’t go to a destination to sit and sleep on their boat,” said Mehmet Bayraktar, who is developing Deep Harbour on Miami’s Watson Island, which will be the only marina in North America designed exclusively for superyachts. “They expect to dock at a destination with great amenities within a city or town which has desirable restaurants and shopping.”

The growing number of superyachts and related expansion of facilities to accommodate them around the world creates many practical considerations for marinas. “What’s critical to the success of a facility is utilities, with all the different varieties of voltages, including all European models,” said Steve Ryder of Bellingham Marine. “The world is a much smaller place now and in order to stand out as a marina you must be able to accommodate everybody’s requirements.”

In this environment of rising expectations, marina owners spoke of specific steps they take to assure that owners and crew receive the highest level of service. “It’s a simple concept; they want to be on vacation and we are fulfilling their dream,” said Ray Graziotto. “A marina is not a parking lot. It’s somewhere that should make everything easy for boaters, where they have everything at their fingertips. That’s what owners, captains and crew have come to expect when they visit a first-class facility.”

In the aftermath of storms like Sandy, Charley and Wilma, the panelists addressed how their businesses have adapted and changed in terms of infrastructure improvements and technology when preparing for major hurricanes.  “Ongoing challenges are site specific,” said Bellingham’s Ryder. “We must take into account wind and waves, of course, but the newer materials for pilings and anchorage have better equipped us to handle secure docking.  We work closely with both marina developers and yacht owners to implement best practices for storm preparation. And we utilize the latest technology to get marinas back up and running after a storm.”

The panel concluded with thoughts on what might be the number one challenge to operating or developing new marinas today and into the future.

 “Standards, surveys and data,” said Bert Fowles. “People are committed to the highest customer service, but as an industry we don’t have a formalized set of standards. We have a lot of data but need to do a better job of sharing that data out into the community. Another challenge is that there are fewer people boating than ever before and we need to correct that statistic.”

For Mehmet Bayraktar, the issues that keep him up at night are, “Utilities, permits, dredging and safely relocating coral reefs and sea grass…all that and educating the next generation of boaters.”

“There are many things that can go wrong which we cannot control, like wind and expenses, but we focus on what we can control as best we can to make boat owners’ experiences great,” said Robert Christoph, Jr. of RCI Group.