Coronavirus has Dutch boating sector by the throat

By Robert Wielaard

AMSTERDAM – The Coronavirus is ravaging the Dutch recreational yachting sector knocking the air out small and mid-sized  companies – the lifeblood of any economy – and threatening to bring economic growth in the Netherlands to its knees.

Initial forecasts, composed in more normal times, put economic growth at 1.4% and 1.6% this year and next, respectively. The outlook now: perhaps 0.5% and 0.3%.

The Dutch boating sector saw the HISWA Amsterdam Boat Show open March 11, and close March 12. Almost 70% of the members of the HISWA-RECRON water sports and recreation lobby expects a loss of turnover. HISWA-RECRON said almost two-thirds expect not to be able to compensate financial losses if the crisis lasts beyond June 1.

The European Central Bank is absorbing €750 billion of the public debts of the 27 EU nations. And the European Commission will suspend state aid rules meaning governments can give companies subsidies,  tax breaks, loan guarantees and advance payments to industries. Separately, banks will give companies a 6-month reprieve in loan repayments.

The Dutch recreational boating sector is very vulnerable as for many companies – marinas, charterers etc. – a year is only 8 or 9 months long.

Vetus, the Dutch maker of marine engines, generators and technical gear for recreational craft and small commercial vessels, says it does “everything possible to keep our operations running as close to normal.” Vetus has suspended outside meetings and travel for its staff, has banned outside visitors from its office and warehouse and has stopped shipping and receiving products on Mondays and Fridays “to reduce our warehouse employees’ exposure to outside personnel.”

The coronavirus has also upended life higher up on the Dutch boating sector’s food chain.

Damen Shipyards Group has staffers work remotely “wherever possible,” says Rose Damen, head of the company’s yachting unit. “For production staff, we are arranging shifts and taking other steps to reduce contact to a minimum,” she added. Damen’s yachting unit makes Amels superyachts, SeaXplorers and superyacht support craft. “We retain our focus on projects we currently work on.”

Marcela de Kern Royer, head of Business Development at Icon Yachts says her company has cancelled all non-essential visits. She adds, “We do video calls to replace face-to-face meetings, our staff and outside workers have been issued face masks and new crew need to be in quarantine for 5 days before entering the shipyard.”

Icon Yachts remains optimistic all projects will continue and is hopeful that from April, production will return to normal.

At Oceanco, CEO Marcel Onkenhout says his yard has “effective and secure systems in place that enable our teams … to continue our services from their remote places of work. If there was ever any doubt about what a global world we live in, we can now fully appreciate just how connected we all are.”