The boating sector withstands the impact of the pandemic. Exports, innovation and enhancement of the supply chain among the levers for a winning business.

2:30 min

With more than 1,300 companies and a turnover of more than 10 billion Euros in 2019, the Italian shipbuilding and nautical industry, confirms its leading position as one of the Made in Italy excellences. Fifth in the world and second in Europe, right behind Germany, in 2020 the Italian nautical sector conquered second place in the exports ranking, thanks to sales of more than 2 billion Euros in foreign markets.

Resilient to the impact of the pandemic, the shipbuilding industry is holding up to the crisis, in 2020 it closed the year with a turnover of over 11 billion Euros, equal to a growth of 9.9% on an annual basis, and with exports of about 4.9 billion Euros (+12.6% y/y). Innovation, internationalisation and attention to the supply chain, which has some of its main production centres in Tuscany, are the strategic levers for a winning business.

These, in brief, were the main take-aways that emerged last week during the Forum delle Economie dedicated to the Boating industry organised by UniCredit as part of #italianEXPerience, the event of the series of meetings organised by the bank entirely online, dedicated to the main industrial sectors and enriched by "virtual fairs" on the Digital Pavilion, a platform developed by the Group for remote B2B meetings.

The meeting, organised in cooperation with Confindustria Nautica, Prometeia and Infomest Consulting, was opened by Andrea Casini, Head of Corporate Italy at UniCredit, and Marina Stella, General Manager of Confindustria Nautica.

The day continued with B2Bs on UniCredit's Digital Pavilion platform, attended by 9 foreign buyers selected by Informest from Denmark, Poland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Latvia, and 50 sellers, Italian UniCredit client companies. An initiative aimed at facilitating functional contact for quality business.

The Italian boating sector - Prometeia's study at a glance

The Italian shipbuilding and nautical industry are comprised of more than 1300 companies, with a turnover of more than 10 billion euros (Istat, 2019). On the shipbuilding front, Italy is the fifth largest global player and the second largest European player behind Germany, in a ranking dominated by Asian giants. On the boating front, Italian companies have risen to the podium of exporters, second only to those of the Netherlands, thanks to foreign sales that in 2020 exceeded 2 billion euros (source: Istat), more than those of France and Germany, respectively the fourth and third largest exporters in the world.

This sector has also had to deal with the impacts of the pandemic, which for the boating industry have manifested themselves both through the collapse of world trade (-12% in 2020, concentrated mainly in inboard, the sector of greatest Italian specialisation, while outboard and sailing boats have minimised losses - source Trade Data Monitor), and through the substantial obstruction of international mobility, particularly that linked to foreign tourism, which continues to hold out in this first part of 2021.

In spite of this, the shipbuilding sector managed to maintain a growth in turnover (+9.9% y/y) for a business volume of over 11 billion Euro: and - thanks mainly to the shipbuilding sector - exports (+12.6% y/y) for 4.9 billion Euros, in clear contrast with the rest of Italian manufacturing (respectively -9.4% and -9% y/y - ISTAT data).

As in many other leading Made in Italy sectors, the role of specialised districts is crucial for the boating industry, particularly those in the Upper Tyrrhenian Sea (from Genoa to Livorno), the Upper Adriatic Sea (from Trieste to Ancona) and Lombardy, areas where the close relationship between manufacturers and suppliers (subcontractors, designers, component manufacturers, fitters) allows the boating industry’s strong points, to be fully exploited.

Hoping to overcome the pandemic crisis in the coming months, the Italian boating industry will have to reckon with major sector trends, linked on the one hand to changes in the preferences of potential buyers and their geographical origin, and on the other hand to innovation paths.

In the wake of the effects of the pandemic, Italians have shown a growing interest in boating holidays: during 2020, Google Trends data revealed an all-time record for this type of search on the internet, with growth of 40% compared to 2019, which shows no sign of reduction even in the first few months of 2021. This is a small sign that fits in with the models of the sharing economy, where there is a preference for the actual use of goods rather than for their possession. However, it is on the international markets that the main challenges with the other global players will be played out, particularly in intercepting a potential demand that is very segmented at an economic and social level.

In addition to the traditional markets, the growing role of Middle Eastern and Far Eastern countries is clear, within which, by integrating information on large individual assets (more or less distorted by tax effects and the volatility of shareholdings) it is possible to identify potential pools of future buyers.

Given the sector's strong industrial roots, it will be crucial to be able to maintain a leading role in development and innovation paths. Looking at the number of patents relating to materials for hulls and marine engines, Italy is the ninth largest country in the world, lagging behind its major European and non-European competitors (the United States, Holland, Germany and France). A further effort to affirm in a recognisable and objective way, through patents, the constant work of innovation carried out by Italian companies, could strengthen their centrality globally, where they are already at the top for design and customisation.