Written by Dr. Jouko Huju DBA
This is the headline I used when I wrote my first editorial for Finnboat’s magazine back in 1996. I was contemplating the problems of the industry’s exposure or the lack thereof, and how to improve it. Being seen in the right media at the right time was just as important back then. That year the ratio of boat ownership in Finland was 1:7, making every seventh Finn a boat owner. This also meant Finland had the most boats per capita alongside Norway and New Zealand. Last year the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency, published a study that stated the boat park in Finland was 1,16 million, which bumps up the ownership ratio to 1:5. Hence, Finns now own more boats per capita than any other country. With 180.000 lakes and 39.000 km of coastline, it’s safe to say Finland offers a boating paradise. 1,16 million boats divided by all the lakes means every lake has about six boats, and the ocean area still remains empty, leaving space for everyone. About half of Finland’s population uses a boat at least once a year. When the international recession hit Finland at the end of 2008, the sales numbers for registered boats plummeted with an over 40% decrease, from annual sales of about 6000 registered boats to the level of 3000. The decrease in sales has been even more radical with sailboats; what used to be 300 sailboats sold per year, is now merely 10-20 boats.
Can all of these changes be explained solely through the economic situation? I wouldn’t put my money on it. The economy did not recover as quickly as hoped, and boating was not at the forefront of people’s priorities anymore. Through these years a generation with new world views was born, and as well as doing other things with their limited free time, they might not value ownership the same way. The boating industry therefore has to fight for itself.
The explosive changes in communication and the rise in forms of media is a challenge for any industry. Finland is still a boating paradise, but only some Finns understand the opportunities it brings. Many great Finnish organizations promote the interests of the marine industry as well as private boat owners. Boating is also a vital condition for many communities and the livelihood of the archipelago.
We thus have a few boating organizations, boating magazines, and the Helsinki International Boat Show which beats any international exhibition in visitor numbers per capita in its own industry (every 74th Finn visits the exhibition). All together these sectors pull their weight in reaching hundreds of thousands of people annually. In this way, I think we have done a good job and If only we could combine this with the products and services that inspire people to spend more time out on the water, the industry could have a bright future ahead.
In this blog I find it unnecessary to talk about mediums of communication and their combinations or investments in marketing. I believe that all the operators in this industry understand the importance of exposure, and there are plenty of professionals to help if needed. I believe that even closer cooperation between the stakeholders in the industry could bear fruit. We won’t know this before we try.