Local sailors shift tack to Croatia
By Patricia Fischer
Monday July 18, 2005
Sailing is becoming an increasingly popular leisure activity in Hungary. But as many yachting marinas on Lake Balaton see demand for berths falling as the domestic market reaches saturation, more and more local sailboat owners are taking their boats to Croatia, where two Hungarian-owned marinas are practically booked solid.
Six years ago, BH Rt, the Balaton Shipping Company, launched a marina development program. Today, the chain consists of ten sailboat marinas with total capacity for over 2,000 boats. The Balatonszemes marina, with 134 available moorings, is the project most recently completed.
â€œWe can offer an annual lease for a lower price than those charged by privately owned marinas, and clients are entitled to use all marinas in the chain and related services at no extra charge,â€? explained Ferenc Lain, BHâ€™s technical director. â€œIf someone keeps their boat in a private marina and wishes to spend a few nights at a different mooring, they should calculate on paying between Ft 4,000 and Ft 10,000 [â‚¬16â€“â‚¬40] per day, depending on the location.â€?
Lain added that prices this year have risen by 6%.
â€œOur price rise, however, is in line with inflation,â€? the technical director said. â€œThis means we are still far cheaper than other private marinas offering similar services.â€?
Even so, demand for moorings on the Balaton has fallen in the last two to three years. According to Lain, there are approximately 5,000 boats currently registered at the lake.
â€œIn the past we registered between 20 and 30 new lessees each year, but recently itâ€™s been more like two or three,â€? he said. He attributed the drop partly to the fact that Croatian marinas are currently in fashion, while suggesting that low Balaton water levels could be another reason.
One shipping expert requesting anonymity agreed that the number of moorage renters on the Balaton is falling, but attributed this to a different cause.
â€œAnyone wishing to buy a boat has already done so, so no significant increase can be expected in this segment,â€? the source said. â€œAs a result of great demand for sailing as a leisure activity, grandiose marina development plans were drawn up between 1997 and 2000. However, due to enlargements and new developments in the last five or six years, the market is now saturated.â€?
Berths to spare
Operators of privately owned harbors around Lake Balaton do not take quite such a dim view of the situation.
â€œWeâ€™ve been 90% booked for years,â€? said DÃ©nes Bartos, harbor director of Kenese Marina-Port Rt, which opened in 1997. â€œNinety-nine percent of those renting moorings are Hungarians. Each year, four or five new lessees appear.â€?
Kenese Marina-Port also operates a four-star hotel adjacent to the marina, the Hotel Marina-Port.
â€œIn running both the hotel and the marina, many of the services are closely connected, but it would be true to say that the marina works profitably in its own right,â€? Bartos claimed.
Bartos said he believes the lake could accommodate ten times as many sailboats, although he conceded that an increasing number of boat owners have chosen to keep their boats in Croatia in recent years.
â€œAround 15 boat owners recently took their boats away from our marina to the Adriatic,â€? he admitted.
The 206-berth Marina Fűzfő, which opened last April in Balatonfűzfő, is currently working at 35% capacity, but the marina manager is optimistic, given that last year the figure was just 14%.
â€œIn terms of quality, the Marina Fűzfő provides more than most other Balaton marinas,â€? asserted marina manager MÃ¡rta Kenyeres, who also predicted that market demand will increase.
â€œA few years ago there was a significant drop in the water level, but this has stopped, and the boat trade has picked up again; used boats rather than new, unfortunately, but itâ€™s still a good sign,â€? Kenyeres said.
The annual fee for a berth at Marina Fűzfő varies between Ft 250,000 and Ft 590,000 â€“ a sum unchanged since last year.
â€œApart from the unchanged rates, weâ€™re also offering discounts that include exchanging up to 25% of the annual fee for credit at the marina restaurant,â€? Kenyeres added.
Although a large percentage of the marinas at Lake Balaton are privately owned or run by various clubs and associations, almost half of the available berths are owned by BH Rt.
â€œBH Rt owns over 50% of the Balaton yachting marina market,â€? said Lain, adding that the companyâ€™s goal is to retain this market share, having managed to double the number of its moorings since 1994.
â€œRecent developments have made it obvious that standards which seemed sufficient three years ago are no longer adequate,â€? he added, conceding that BHâ€™s services need renewal.
Although the average utilization level of BHâ€™s marinas is around 92%, Lain admitted there are places where the situation is less than perfect.
â€œOpened last June, we expect mostly Austrian and German renters at our Keszthely Marina,â€? Lain revealed. â€œFor the moment, however, utilization of the 200-berth marina remains below 10% â€“ despite all our marketing efforts.â€?
Lain said that Austrian and German yacht clubs make frequent inquiries about the marina, but are looking to buy rather than rent. He added that they have even approached BH with the intention of buying the entire marina. The company, however, is reluctant to part with any member of its chain.
According to Lain, BHâ€™s marina branch produces what he described as a minimum acceptable profit of 9%â€“10%.
â€œTaking only cash flow into account, our results are fairly good,â€? he said. â€œThis, however, must be seen in the context of general costs and amortization. All things considered, our profit is not that high.â€?
Hungarians at sea
Over in Croatia, meanwhile, one Hungarian company, DalmÃ¡cia Holiday Kft, can boast two marinas. The Marina Tribunj, owned entirely by DalmÃ¡cia, has 250 berths, while joint venture Marina Kremik has 400 berths to offer sailors.
â€œIn Croatia the market is definitely governed by demand,â€? said Ã‰va Kerekes, operator of Marina Tribunj and managing director of local joint venture Danuvius Marina d.o.o.
â€œBoth marinas are fully booked, with another 100 boats, both in Tribunj and Kremik, on the waiting list,â€? she added.
At Marina Tribunj, 30%â€“35% of lessees are Hungarians, while this proportion is lower at Marina Kremik because charter companies book most of the available berths, explained Kerekes. The number of Hungarian lessees at Marina Tribunj has increased steadily since opening in 2003, which she attributed largely to the newly constructed motorway along the Dalmatian coast.
â€œNow it takes barely six hours to reach Tribunj from Budapest,â€? Kerekes noted, while adding that even in the year of its opening, the marina was 90% full.
According to Kerekes, there are as many as 15,000 berths available in Croatiaâ€™s marinas, which face steadily increasing demand.