The ‘market’ for berths is growing again, but stability, certainty, and cooperation between marinas are required. We chatted to Matteo Ratti, director and CEO of the Cala de’ Medici marina
by Niccolò Volpati
«IN JANUARY WE PUT 10% OF THE NEW BERTHS WE HAVE UP FOR SALE, and, to our surprise, we sold 72% of them in just two months», Matteo Ratti, the director of Marina Cala de’ Medici, tells us. This is a significant number, and not a result they were taking for granted.
The ‘sale’ of berths – which as we know is not technically a sale, because the maritime domain remains public property – has not yet fully recovered from the crisis pleasure boating suffered ten years ago. A sale refers to a long-term mooring, as opposed to a shorter – usually year-long – lease. The two main pillars of a marina are sales and rental, with the former crucial to repay the investment of whoever built the facility, normally a private company. As Ratti notes: «Until 2008, rental costs were going up every year, but since then they have been on a downwards trajectory».
At Cala de’ Medici, a 16-meter berth once cost € 14,000 a year, whereas now the rent has gone back up to € 12,500. It is a good sign, explained both by the number of new boats being produced and the strength of the second-hand market. In 2020, many people realized that a boat was the best way to spend their holidays and spare time with family or friends, away from the crowds and Covid-19 precautions, and the industry benefitted as a result.
New, used, and chartered boats changed hands in numbers that seemed impossible during the first lockdown just over a year ago. And the same thing is happening with berths: as the boating market grows, so is the mooring market. What is needed, then? «Stability», Matteo Ratti replies with conviction. Berths are an investment, and investors need certainty.
The dispute over the fees paid to the state has caused problems in recent years, only partially resolved in 2017 with the introduction of the IMU levy on water bodies and the TARI tax. Many concessions are also nearing their end: most of the marinas built in the mid-1970s were licensed with fifty-year concessions, which are therefore due to run out in around 2025. All this leads to a lack of certainty. «Everyone knows they have to pay their taxes, but the difficulties occur when backdated increases in fees are mooted». Basically, in recent years marinas have experienced a situation similar to Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham, with taxes and duties imposed arbitrarily. What is needed is stability, not a situation where any new government can change the rules.
Those investing in docking space need certainty: when deciding on a state fee or taxes, a period should also be set within which they cannot be put up for discussion again. That way, those looking to invest would know the additional costs and set their expectations accordingly, but without running the risk of nasty surprises the next year, or even attempts to increase taxes retroactively. It is also worth remembering that the private companies that own concessions for state property usually built the marina themselves. This is different from private companies with motorway concessions, because the motorways – or at least the older ones – were built by the state with public money and then handed over to private companies to manage, and they also make money from toll charges.
Work began on Marina Cala de’ Medici in 1999, and the concession is due to expire in 2049. It is located in Castiglioncello, a few miles south of Livorno, and a few miles from the Tuscan archipelago and Pisa airport. There are 650 berths, almost all for boats up to 24 meters long. The shopping area covers an area of 3,000 m2, with 33 shops and eight guest rooms, and there is also a 4,000 m2 boatyard.
Marinas built thirty or forty years ago often need to be upgraded. Back then, the average length of a yacht was around seven and a half meters, whereas now it has roughly doubled, meaning bigger moorings are required. The beamwidth has also grown – 15-meter-long boats can easily be 5 meters wide – and then there are catamarans too. There’s a solution for everything, and the companies that manage marinas are managing to cope with these new demands. However, it all takes extra work, over and above that required to build the marina. This is another reason why the companies managing them are seeking an extension, particularly if the concession is nearing its end – a legitimate course of action, and indeed various marinas have succeeded in obtaining one. It also provides extra security because, as you might imagine, it is difficult to ‘sell’ a berth at a port that risks losing its concession in just a few years.
In 2008, the annual rent for a 16-meter berth reached € 14,000. Today the same mooring costs € 12,500. (June 2021)
«We need to stop being so divided. Our clientele is now international – we can’t continue with this local rivalry. My neighbours are allies, not competitors», Ratti continues. Promoting the marinas of a region also helps to overcome the structural limits of some ports. «We can’t house Giga yachts at Marina Cala de’ Medici – the majority of our moorings go up to 24 meters – but not far from us there are places that can. We need to work as a network, offering a service and seeking mutual benefit instead of competing with one another».
Buying a berth is once again a profitable investment. The new and used boat market is growing, and there is high demand for moorings.
This is why Matteo Ratti set up the Tuscan Consortium of Marinas, which the eleven marinas in the region signed up to very promptly. And it’s not just yet another marina association. «The consortium does not have a top-down structure – it’s something else entirely. Often trade associations have one supreme leader and all the other companies do is pay their membership fees. But our consortium is more ‘horizontal’. We are all on the same level, and we work together to promote the local area and our businesses. The Tuscany Region understood this too and is funding us to attend shows together, all over the world. We hope they start up again soon because the experiences we had before the pandemic produced excellent results. The whole world knows about Tuscany, so a consortium promoting marinas in this area already has the wind in its sails».
(Marina Cala de’ Medici, safe ports – Barchemagazine.com – June 2021)