Industry must prepare for the year ahead

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Now is the time to start planning for 2016, says Darren Vaux, and for the boating community that means preparing for a Federal election.

As we approach the summer of 2015 all of our best laid plans are bearing or ready to bear fruit for the season ahead. Clubs and marinas are holding their season openings and dealers and brokers are, hopefully, breaking records with boat sales. Now is the time to reap the rewards of efforts over the year and lay the foundations for a successful 2016.

So what can we expect in 2016? Economically, the world still is nervous and apprehensive. Financial challenges in China and southern Europe are taming investor confidence. Ongoing Middle-East conflict is creating further uncertainty and creating a financial burden to the US and its allies.

Modest economic growth is keeping interest rates at historically low levels but, without the commensurate business confidence and with banking rules limiting lending to business, investment remains subdued.

This sounds like a negative outlook, however, domestically, our capital cities, led by Sydney, have seen dramatic growth in residential property prices driven by low interest rates and overseas investor demand. At the time of writing, the ASX All Ordinaries index is 50% higher than it was during the GFC in 2009.

Consequently, property and share-owning Australians are, on paper, wealthier than they have ever been. Historically, peak demand for discretional purchases like boats occur in the top half of an economic upswing and it would appear that that is where we are and that is where we are heading.

It is interesting that it is some 10 years since the last peak of 2005/6. Another interesting trend has been the domestic and international upswing in attendances at boat shows, and the reported sales and interest at the boat shows are both showing an upward trajectory. The key question now is how we connect the ability to buy with the desire and decision to buy into the boating lifestyle.

The key to this remains making it easy and fun. The internet ensures that consumers these days are armed with both information and misinformation so customer experience is paramount. The luxury car market has certainly recognised this and is achieving results. We have room for improvement, but therein lies the opportunity for prudent operators.

The message in my mind is clear: the buyers are there, they can afford the purchase but they have high expectations of quality and service and we need to deliver a customer experience to match this in order to be successful in 2016.

Back to the polls

2016 is also a Federal election year. Three years is not enough time to build a successful business so how can a Government expect to run a country and plan for the future with that constraint hanging over them? Unfortunately 2016 will be marked by electioneering which will be distracting to business and consumers alike.

As an industry we need to have a clear policy platform to take to all sides of Government to protect and enhance our industry.

The combined marine sector directly contributes over $9 billion to the Australian economy and employs over 50,000 people. The industry engages with over 3 million people who go boating every year and we need to ensure that our collective voice is heard and engaged in the year ahead.

As an industry we will remobilise our campaign of ‘I Boat & I Vote’ as the headline to our policy platform and we will need to re-engage the government and opposition alike with our key policy platforms including such areas as:

  • Boating safety education in lieu of more regulation.
  • Improvements to access and infrastructure and no increased restrictions on boating (for example marine reserves).
  • National regulatory reform and reduction of red tape.
  • Greater support for the boating and marina industries, support for Australian manufacturers and exporters, and recognition of the importance of the boating public and the boating lifestyle in Australian society.
  • Support for training and education and career pathways into the boating industry.

The economy, jobs and the environment will be key election issues. We have good news stories for all of these and as such they will form a key platform for our advocacy. Our industry is important both economically and socially. At the Federal level we don’t get the recognition or priority we deserve; 2016 is the year that will change.

In 2015 the industry stands more united than it has ever been. The state Boating Industry Association amalgamations are well under way and the Boating Industries Alliance Australia (BIAA), Marina Industries Association (MIA) and Australian International Marine Export Group (AIMEX) stand united in their national and international relations.

With the support of our members and the boating public, our voices will be heard and our industry will continue to prosper to the benefit of Australia.

I boat and I vote, do you?

Darren Vaux is chairman of the Boating Industries Alliance Australia, vice president of the Marina Industries Association of Australia and director of the award-winning Empire Marina Bobbin Head in Sydney.

The article was first published in the October-November issue of Marine Business magazine.

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