Genoa’s 51st Salone Nautico Internazionale yacht show closed yesterday under less than perfect sailing conditions with news of the recent downgrade of both Italy’s credit rating and the country’s major banks as the nation comes to grips with its sovereign debt crisis. Still, despite the dampened mood, favourable economic winds were finally starting to pick up again for a sector in which Italy is a leading force on the water.
Since Lehman Brothers went bust, Italy’s yacht makers, which at the time enjoyed a turnover of €6.2bn and annual double-digit growth spanning back a decade, have found themselves in choppy seas. A two-year recession cut industry sales by 45 per cent from 2008 and resulted in thousands of layoffs. However, recent figures put out by UCINA (the Italian Marine Industry Association) show that the country’s boatyards reported a modest 4 per cent increase in sales through the first three months of 2011.
Among the 1,300 exhibitors in Genoa, optimists were surprisingly not hard to find. “I like to see the glass as half full,” says Cataldo Aprea, owner of Naples-based Apreamare, who recently bought back his company from the Ferretti Group, the struggling consortium of yacht brands that includes Riva. Aprea is decidedly bullish, showing off several new models that include the Smeraldo 45′ cruiser that updates the shape of the “gozzo sorrentino”, a traditional Neapolitan fishing boat. Aprea adds: “Remember, Italy remains the leader in yachtbuilding. We still have many arrows in our quiver to launch at the competition.”
Another boatyard in a festive mood was Sanlorenzo. This year the Liguria-based boatyard was recognised with a prize from ADI, the Italian industrial design association that hands out the country’s prestigious Compasso d’Oro award to furniture makers. Keen to promote provenance, Sanlorenzo outfits its boat interiors with leading Italian brands such as Boffi (kitchen), Artemide (lighting) and Roda (deck chairs and loungers) to attract discerning clients, a strategy that has paid off handsomely during the recession.
“We’ve fared better because we didn’t go after nouveau riche clients in Russia and elsewhere like the bigger shipyards, who saw customers in those markets completely disappear during the crisis,” explains Massimo Perotti, president of Sanlorenzo. Amid vacant berths at the show – 400 fewer craft on display compared to 2009 – his company announced new investments, including a venture to build boats in Brazil. Indeed, foreign buyers are being courted more than ever – during the credit crunch, domestic sales of yachts have fallen 33 per cent versus a 9 per cent increase in exports.
Perotti however warned that emerging markets shouldn’t be viewed as a monolithic bloc. “The BRICs are different. The Asian market is growing but it is constrained by infrastructure – India, with a billion people, only has two marinas, with 100 berths between them, able to host large yachts.”