- You are a lawyer by profession but now mainly work in the Marina sector. How were you introduced to the sector, and what excited you about it?
Actually, my first position after graduating from the university was a lawyer in one of the biggest shipping companies in Finland, which managed a fleet of over 30 different types of vessels, from large passenger ferries to all types of cargo vessels. That was a good introduction to the Marine world, which I have always found to be a fascinating sector. I have been a boater for most of my life, and I got my first boat in early 70’s. I think boating is close to the hart of most Finns, as we have thousands of lakes and a beautiful archipelago between Finland and Sweden. Before joining Marinetek, I had been involved with a couple of large scale marina projects, providing a basic understanding of the industry related challenges.
- What was the most interesting position you have ever held? What made the job so interesting?
I have been lucky as all my positions, across varying sectors, have been extremely interesting and rewarding. In addition to shipping, I have worked in oil exploration and production, in financial services and asset management, in consulting and executive search, in real estate business and now in the marina sector. It is difficult to pick only one but, if pressed, it would be my position as Managing Director of Marinetek Middle East and Asia. In this position I have had to learn how to work in an extremely international environment, with strong Middle Eastern bias. We have build and grown the business from scratch to an operation covering most of GCC countries. People do not usually understand the challenges relating to building on water compared to building something on land. Structures on water are on constant movement 24/7 and 365 days in a year, with design life for more than 50 years. This requires special engineering skills and knowledge, which makes this business both demanding but also rewarding.
- How long have you been based in Dubai? And what made you move to the Middle East?
I moved to Dubai in 2005, when the building boom here had just started. I have seen the Palm and the World Islands literally built in front of my eyes, aswell as the tallest buildings in the world. I came to Dubai for the first time in the early 80’s when I was working in the oil business, and found the place to be fascinating, full of different cultures and in many ways very exotic. Naturally Dubai was then very different to what it is now as it has become one of the metropolises of the world in a very short period. The weather here is very nice and sunny for most of the year, and Dubai is one of the safest cities in the world. The level of services here is outstanding. However, I spend all summers in Finland, when the weather here is very hot, and in that respect, I can enjoy the best sides of both UAE and Finland.
- Dubai and the entire Arab region are embracing yachting with multiple projects on the go at the moment. There are marina developments in Jeddah, Dubai, Qatar. What are your predictions for yachting in the Arab region in the next 30 years?
After a few quieter years many of the waterfront project are seeing daylight here again. In the UAE most of the projects are in Abu Dhabi, where many of its surrounding islands are being developed, and several new marinas are planned. There are many projects ongoing or in the planning phase in Saudi Arabia, especially in the Red Sea, such as Neom, Jeddah Central, the Red Sea and Amaala Triple Bay Projects, to name a few. These projects are built both for locals but also for tourists. Clearly, they want to attract visitors from around the world to experience the Red Sea and its beautiful reefs. The target is to entice the Mega- and Superyachts, spending most of the summer season in the Mediterranean Sea, to come to the Red Sea during the winter. From there they can travel through the Gulf to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar, and all the way to Maldives and even Thailand. This project is called “The Spice Route”. Qatar has experienced a boom in construction relating to the FIFA World Cup, to be hosted November – December 2022. A few new marinas have been built to cater for the needs of the visitors that will come with their yachts to watch the games.
My belief is that yachting is going to be grow in the Middle East once the new marinas and related facilities are ready to receive their guests in the coming years.
- And what are the biggest challenges facing yachting in the region?
There are still some obstacles relating to yachting especially in the KSA and Dubai. For example, financing has not been available for boat buyers, which naturally affects the number of boats that will be bought in the region. However, changes are imminent, and in future the banks can give financing for boat byers. There are some historical bureaucratic matters to be addressed, for example: getting sailing permits before going out with the boat; getting visas for the visiting crew members of the yachts; alcohol permits, etc. The weather in summer is not ideal for boating but in the winter season it is great. There may also be some political risks, like the vicinity of the waters of Iran in the Arabian Gulf, and the military actions in Yemen on Gulf of Aden added with some acts of pirates from the African side countries. However, the situation seems to be contained at present.
- We work in a very global sector and Covid 19 again highlighted the interconnectedness and dependency of global trade. What do you think are the lingering challenges from Covid 19 for the sector? And what is the silver lining?
Most of the restrictions relating to Covid 19 have now been withdrawn in the GCC countries. The situation has normalised with tourists and visitors welcomed again. The only thing that will be checked is their vaccination certificate.
There is an increased demand for boats which, coupled with the shortages of components for the boats, has lead to long waiting times for new boats. Although a temporary situation, it does affects boating. Sales are dropping from last year’s peak, as was expected.
As for the silver lining, we saw an increase in the number of new boat owners, thus increasing the size of the boating community, which is good for the industry in general. The challenge is to keep these new boaters within the community!
Kai Malmivaara, GMBA Middle East
Tel: +971 50 276 0287
Disclaimer: Global Marine Business Advisors is a registered legal entity and is a network of independent marine industry advisors. In all articles the opinions expressed are those of the author and does not necessarily reflect those of GMBA.