Thinking out of the box to save Dutch marinas
BREDA – Not long ago, a survey asked Dutch boaters a tricky question: “Would you buy your boat again?” Most replied ‘No!’ Yet, also, a majority said they loved boating. Yachting is at a crossroads, in the Netherlands and elsewhere. Dark clouds are gathering over marinas. Sailing and leisure patterns are changing. Boaters are graying. A new age is catching many marina owners napping. Luckily, there is Rob Vrolijks.
A yachting sector consultant, Vrolijks advocates a rethink of Dutch marinas to enable them to keep attracting boaters and remain drivers of local economies. Graying is one issue. The average Dutch boat owner today is 60 and bought his first boat before he turned 40. The figures for Germany and other countries are the same. Youngsters still learn to sail here (in fact, in 2011, 24% more Dutch sailing diplomas were issued than in 2009) “but those newcomers are not buying boats,” Vrolijks tells Yacht-and-Coast.
The future of marinas is a weighty issue in this country. Annually, more than a million people _ 470,000 foreigners and 600,000 Dutch nationals _ vacation on or near water in the Netherlands. The country boasts 523.000 boats and yachts and 1,100 marinas _ one quarter of Europe’s total.
Changing leisure patterns, says Vrolijks, drives the need for marinas to offer more services, more choice. “Many marinas are no longer full. This is not anecdotal. Just offering berths of different lengths is no longer enough. Like campgrounds, marinas must offer, among other things, barbecue facilities, entertainment, electricity, sufficient parking, playgrounds, sanitation, restaurants and repair facilities.
Vrolijks suggests that marinas differentiate more by focusing on specific activities: by catering to large motor yachts, for instance. Or to sports sailors, chartering, passage makers or time share services. To help marinas and local governments think out of the box, he contributed to a 2009 study that identified no fewer than 50 marina types: from “nature ports’’ to luxury resorts, from regatta centers to concept facilities such as “Maxifloating Harbors.” The study was designed to provide food for thought.
And change is coming, slowly. In the Netherlands, says Vrolijks, cities have begun creating marinas in areas that have been vacated by commercial inland shipping. “Cities are now asking themselves how they can profit _ or profit more _ from their waterways.”