How to turn ports into seaside resorts for boaters. Interview with D-Marin managing director Nicolò Caffo

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Azimut-Benetti’s Marina di Varazze is part of the D-Marin network of “premium” ports

Group established in 2003 and now 100% controlled by CVC Capital Partners, a 186 billion euro asset fund that bought it in 2021, D-Marin turnover 150 million euros and has 26 marinas in its portfolio, including Spain, Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Malta and Italy.

D-Marin in Italy

Specifically along the Peninsula at the moment the group manages Marina Punta Faro in Lignano Sabbiadoro, Marina degli Aregai in Santo Stefano al Mare and Marina di San Lorenzo of the Cozzi Parodi group, as well as Azimut-Benetti’s Marina di Varazze, from which it also had the management of the Marina di Livorno, still under construction.

Nicolo Caffo, general manager D-Marin
Nicolo Caffo, general manager D-Marin

But it is not stopping: the goal for the near future is to grow further-in Italy and beyond-to expand the network and make it a true “luxury hotel chain on the sea.” The definition is from D-Marin’s general manager in Italy, Nicolò Caffo, who told the group’s strategies exclusively to Giornale della Vela.

“Expand the network and increase the quality of service.”

“Right now we are working to expand our network of marinas both along the Peninsula and throughout the Mediterranean. Suffice it to say that as of 2021, in just three years, we have more than doubled our facilities. The strategy is to continue, following the example of what was done some fifty years ago by the big world hotel groups, which acquired a large number of hotels and turned them into a chain.

This does not yet exist in boating. For Italy in particular, I can say that we are in ‘well-started’ negotiations with two marinas but we are also starting to talk to ten others. In short, we are counting in the short to medium term on doubling the current marinas in Italy, precisely by making them living, experience-rich facilities: not a parking lot but a real resort where people enjoy staying. Above all, we want to follow the trend of high-end hospitality that works so well in Italy today and expand it to the boating industry also precisely by offering top services.”

Objective “premium marine”

So what kind of port target is D-Marin interested in? “What we call ‘premium marinas’ and are basically good-sized marinas., that is, with a few hundred berths, and which still have a few years of concession still ahead, so that investments can be made there and amortized. Invest then to provide services of a certain level, say for boats of at least 35 or 40 meters. To give an example, in the ports we have already acquired, we have invested about 10 million euros in technology, from wi-fi to a customer management system precisely for the big luxury groups.

We have developed website and app from which one can choose and book berths remotely as one does for hotels and airplanes. An important service, in an industry in which people call with the VHF to look for a free berth and stand in line at the office to pay. And again we have developed smart columns with a Qr code that you scan with your smartphone so that you can activate, manage and pay your utilities. Each of our operators is then connected to our system to understand the needs of a shipowner coming from one of our ports and another.”

The biggest critical issue for this strategy? “In Italy, the marine market has historically been in the hands of local entrepreneurs who have a good management approach but very poor in relation to customer orientation. In fact, the yachtsman today also uses the boat as a second luxury home and thus wants to experience it in a real resort that offers services up to the mark. And on this today, unfortunately, Italian navies are still lagging behind.

It is a transition that has to take place with an evolution of the market, the very one that we want to bring by creating a network of marinas that are of a high standard and included in a larger context, of a group that can make investments and thus grow in a virtuous circuit. There is a great need in Italy for this approach to the quality of the tourism experience to help the movement.

As is the case in a luxury hotel, the marina should be a central point of the vacation experience, perhaps even offering locations for fine dining and drinking or even tailored concierge services. The opportunity is huge, and we are also riding it to grow the industry. At the moment, moreover, there is excellent feedback from shipowners because they just discover the convenience of in-house managed services.

Of course, a total restyling of the ports has to be done in certain cases: in fact we intervene on the structures, with works and with so-called beautification, to make the ports of call more beautiful and functional. And to do that you need not only capital, but also experience in the field, which we as a European network have extensive.”

Davide Deponti

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