Conference Day at the Korea International Boat Show 2013, and the opening remarks from the Governor of Gyeonggi Province, Kim Moon Soo, were certainly interesting.
Kim Moon Soo, Governor of Gyeonggi Province - Korea International Boat Show 2013
Since its inception in 2008 the Korea International Boat Show (KIBS) has always been a government-sponsored event. Six years ago saw the legislation of a five-day working week in Korea, and it was widely imagined that this would result in a lot of people with savings in the bank and looking for something to do with their new-found leisure time. Why not go boating? So a grand plan was hatched kick-start a Korean marine leisure industry This included the building of marinas, the creation of marine industry development zones (industrial estates, in short), a programme of boating-sailing-yachting education and, to help spread the message to one and all, the Korea International Boat Show and Gyeonggi Marine Festival complete with pop concerts, kite flying competitions, exhibition halls dedicated to revealing the Grand Plan, and alongside it all the first running of the Korea Match Cup, part of the World Match Racing Tour).
The first KIBS offered free exhibition space for overseas exhibitors as well as air tickets and accommodation. As an incentive for regional manufacturers and dealers to introduce themselves to Korea, it was second to none. The attendance figures may have been rather skewed by the appearance of hundreds (no… thousands) of kindergarten children bussed in for the Marine Festival, but it was a success in everyone’s books. It was also an excellent opportunity for Korean businesses to get in touch with foreign marine companies – after all, nobody was going sell dozens of boats, since there weren’t the marinas in which to put them and anyway, a 60’ motoryacht is hardly an impulse purchase.
IMG 8744 - Korea International Boat Show 2013
Six years later, and much has been learned. The take-up of boating has been slower than anticipated, and the development of leisure marine industrial facilities has been more sparse than anticipated. But that doesn’t mean nothing has happened: far from it. There are now 19 operational marinas in Korea, nine more under development, and a further 45 planned. The Korean Coastguard is issuing boat licences (yes, you have to take a proper test) almost as fast as they can print them. At events such as the Gyeonggi Marine Festival the queues for a five minute ride in a kayak or on a small paddle boat go all the way round the block – so there is interest and there is enthusiasm for getting your feet wet.
And all this time KIBS has been growing year by year on the back of generous government funding. The event is, therefore, driven as much by politics as it is by economics. When a new administration is elected, as happened in all the provinces of Korea last year, there are going to be political questions asked.
So Governor Kim Moon Soo was refreshingly direct when he addressed the delegates to the 2013 Asia Marine Conference this morning. He said that conditions for encouraging the development of boating and boating industries had been 'not good' during the last year. 'Korea is experiencing an economic slowdown, and people are not opening their wallets so much at the moment.' (Heck - most of the countries of Western Europe would give their eye teeth for Korea’s ‘problems’ right now – the original Asian Tiger still has positive economic growth!) – but boating in general is being seen by some as 'high end leisure. It is being attacked and challenged by some sectors that believe that public funds could be better spent elsewhere.'
'But the challenge is only temporary,' declared Governor Kim. 'Boating is not just for rich people – it is for everyone, especially for young people. And I continue to believe that the successful promotion of a marine leisure industry in Korea will create demand for products, and then jobs, and then contribute to peace and prosperity.' Having met the Governor on a number of occasions, I’ll not be betting against him. 'What Korean boating needs now,' he declared, 'is support at a national level – and that means the newly-formed Ministry of Ocean & Fisheries.'
But that’s another story.
For the last five years KIBS had been located at Tando Harbour, Jeong-gok, about 90 minutes south of Seoul when the traffic allows. For 2013 the event has shifted itself to the Korea International Trade Exhibition Centre (KINTEX), more or less half way between Incheon Airport and the centre of Seoul. The good news is that it gives the show a very much greater potential catchment population. The downside is that there’s no water. We will be asking exhibitors what they think of this development. First indications are encouraging – 28,000 sq m of floor space (the same as this year’s London Boat Show, we are told) was all sold out a couple of months before the event. Marine industry companies from the USA, Canada and South Africa are present. So, walk the halls and ask the questions.