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One of the boating industry’s core goals to support our future prosperity is to increase the number of young people exposed to boating and sailing. Research shows that people who were exposed to boating in some form at a young age are much more likely to re-engage with boating in adulthood. Research into strategies adopted by other sports and pastimes provides valuable insight into underlying motivations that, at first glance, may not be obvious. Professional sports like AFL and Cricket are not just looking to build participation at the playing level, they are looking to build passion for the sport that will turn young players into future fans and spectators, that is “passive participators”. This is the volume market and is particularly relevant to the boating industry in formulating pathways for future boaters. As an industry our primary objective should be to build a fan base for boating and sailing, that is, an interest in performance but a love for just messing about in boats.

But what about our industry itself, have we learnt anything over the past challenging years? In my experience, our industry divides into two groups; the players and the spectators. The spectators are not unlike sporting spectators. When the team (read industry) is doing well they share the success and the glory. When the team is doing it tough they turn on the players and the coach, hold passionate views about what needs to be done and wait and hope for a better time. Often these views will be expressed anonymously on forums which clearly lack credibility and conviction if the author is not prepared to be identified. The proverbial “cheap shot” from the sidelines. In professional sport there is a disconnection between players and spectators, as the spectators have limited input or influence, but in industry there is not. Anyone can be a player and the more players the stronger the team.
 
Collaboration is key
 
We are in an unprecedented period of change. The business paradigms of last decade and in some respects last year will not serve us going forward. If we adapt to change after it has occurred we will always be behind the curve. So how do we lead the change momentum and not get carried by it. Simply, by becoming the momentum through collaboration.

Collaboration, simply, is working together to achieve a shared goal. As an industry our fundamental goal is sustained future prosperity and growth. Not surprisingly, this aligns with what should be the fundamental goal of all businesses. So how does collaboration work between competitive businesses? In a competitive market, businesses seek to differentiate themselves and their products to make sales. In our industry, our main competition is caravans, overseas holidays and privately imported boats. Sure we compete for domestic sales but our shared core goals are to:
 
1. Defend against regulations that restrict or impact on boating;
2. Grow participation in boating to increase the size of the market.
 
They key to collaboration is to identify shared goals and pool resources to achieve same while recognising and respecting differences or areas of competition. In my view 80 per cent of what impacts on our businesses (both positively and negatively) are shared goals with our competitors, the remaining 20 per cent is competitive. By way of example, marine parks and reserves can have a significant impact on the ability to go boating and fishing. Where these impacts are without basis and unreasonable it is in fishers, boaters’ and industry’s interests alike to work together towards a common goal. At the other end of the spectrum there are local businesses, yacht clubs and schools working together to get kids out on the water as part of the after schools program or marine studies courses. This builds relationships, trust and respect within local communities and serves to grow participation.

Industry Associations are the obvious tool for collaboration and around Australia there are over 200 industry players who volunteer their time on Association Boards and Committees in the various national, state and local bodies. In addition there are about 30 full and part-time people employed within these groups. In the scale of this industry this is just a handful of resources and there needs to be much greater participation and collaboration by industry players if we are to see genuine and timely recovery and growth in our industry. At the Association level there are genuine moves to bring unprecedented co-ordination and collaboration between the peak bodies for the greater good of the whole industry.

2013 is the year of collaboration. A genuine example of this is the Marine 13 Conference to be held in Sydney in April this year. This is a collaboration between the BIAA and the MIA with the support of State and Federal Government Agencies. The conference brings together the major national and international players in the Boating, Marina and Safety Sectors from industry and Government to share information, ideas and inspiration. This conference will be a catalyst for forging collaborative relationships around collective interests at all levels. At a business level, sometimes you need to step out of the business, take a look around, seek inspiration and refresh your approach. If you think you can’t afford the time or cost to be there, you probably need it more than you realise.
 
 
Darren Vaux is Chairman of the Boating Industries Alliance Australia, President of the Boating Industry Association of NSW, Vice President of the Marina Industries Association of Australia, Director of Empire Marina Bobbin Head, the current Australian Marina of the year and Managing Director of Vaux Insight, a boutique business transformation consultancy.

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