IWCM 2023

The ICOMIA World Marinas Conference was a tremendously rich experience – in terms of expert content, prestigious marina visits and quality networking. Several TransEurope Marinas members attended the event which hosted around 400 delegates representing some 40 nationalities.

  • “Sustainability is the regatta of our lives” – Martinho Fortunato
  • “There is no “one size fits all” to the decarbonisation issue” – PIANC
  • “There’s going to be more change in the next 10 years than ever before” – Bill Yeargin
  • “We need to turn grey spaces into blue oases.” Albert Bargay

The 2023 ICOMIA World Marinas Conference was held in multiple award-winning Marina de Vilamoura in the Algarve region for Portugal, a country famous for its long coastline and illustrious maritime history of voyaging and discovery. A very warm welcome was given by hosts Isolete Correia, Marina de Vilamoura CEO, and ICOMIA Marinas Group chair (IMG) Martinho Fortunato, both representing the Portuguese Association of Recreational Ports (APPR), and setting the scene for what was to be a sumptuous and highly enjoyable event.

ICOMIA’s president Darren Vaux was amongst those giving opening remarks, reminding delegates of the scientifically proven capacity of recreational boating to enrich people’s lives. He spoke of how marinas have evolved to become tourism destinations and of the urgent need for more robust investment frameworks for what is effectively privately-funded public infrastructure.

Keynote speaker Bill Yeargin gave a powerful presentation on the fundamental importance of culture in a company. He provided a compelling case for the fact that culture should be perceived as a high-return investment rather than an expense, given its capacity to improve the quality of employee’s working experience (positivity and belonging); help make companies resilient in the face of future changes and contribute to the wider community.

One of the key questions raised during the IWCM was how to decarbonise the industry. A strong argument was made by Frank Hugelmeyer, CEO of the US National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), for the hybrid propulsion system as an accessible way of working towards current goals. The topic was taken up by others to include development on hydrogen solutions, electric propulsion and on how to adapt a marina accordingly, reminding delegates of the carbon balance sheet of the existing fleet and the significant carbon count of the supply chain of materials and energy. Within the boats themselves, space, weight, refuelling time, and range were all described as factors.

An image of the “smart port” illustrated the operational interplay that would serve a shift towards decarbonisation, with centralised and distributed power generation, intermittent renewable power generation and a new reactive dynamic in terms of energy needs. Interesting roundtable sessions, featuring Pick a Pier, Falco, D-Marin, Monaco Marina Management and EBI amongst others, discussed instruments such as the new Smart Marina concept prepared by the ICOMIA Marinas Group with the need for collaboration and harmonisation, and opportunities being offered by the European Data Space Strategy.

Environmental sustainability was naturally another central focus during the conference, raised by several of the speakers in various contexts. Blue Flag presenter Johann Durand spoke of the new Gaia 20:30 strategy that will take Blue Flag criteria to the next level and great cases studies were provided on sustainable anchoring solutions, ocean stewardship, the use of cork in the marine sphere and green infrastructure. Tiago Pitta e Cunha explained that without environmental sustainability, there would be no socio-economic sustainability, and how important it is to be investing in the natural capital economy.

Day Two of the conference afforded a full day of marina visits, with tours charting the successful idiosyncrasies of Marina de Vilamoura, Marina de Lagos and Marina de Albufeira. Delegates were treated to a charming boat trip along the characteristic Algarve coast. The gala dinner later that night was held in a magical marquee with excellent fayre and a guest performance from one of Portugal’s most cherished vocalists, Aurea. The illustrious “Golden Cleat” for a lifetime’s service to the industry was presented ceremoniously to popular denizen Dan Natchez, amidst much applause.

Former IMG President, TransEurope Marinas member and manager of Marina del Cavallino, Roberto Perocchio gave his impressions regarding the conference:

The IWCM provided comprehensive industry content, from energy transition and drystack operations to political issues at national level and worldwide: taxation, concessions and worldwide cooperation of marina association organisations.

All speakers respected the assigned time and provided interesting insights meaning that delegates went home full of new ideas and impressions. What I found particularly interesting was the discussion about single independent marinas and chains – which carried some notable tension! Independent marinas were seen to embody flexibility, resilience and response capacity whereas chains enjoy economies of scale, capital, good digital capacity, expertise and marketing power. Marina chains in the future will continue to be a solution for family marinas who encounter succession problems. Fortunately, the conclusion to that debate is that both offer important advantages, and that diversity is of course productive in and of itself.

The whole event was brilliantly led, organised, and managed by the IMG Chair, Martinho Fortunato, who was also able to showcase the power and quality and motivation of the Portuguese marina association. Martinho delivered an impressive performance which enhanced the worldwide reputation of IMG and of all the ICOMIA association in general. This excellent work guaranteed the attendance of nearly 400 delegates and speakers where the presence of Asian and American operators was much appreciated.

All participants were given a fantastic overview of the challenges and opportunities of the marina sector for the years to come in order. This will enable us all to be well prepared for the right choices in terms of management and investment.

The next ICOMIA World Marinas Conference has now been announced and will take place in Venice, 2025. See you there!