Revamping and regeneration: heading up Azimut Benetti marinas
Marina di Varazze has placed its bets on ambitious ventures. Now managing Marina di Valletta in Malta and Lusben Varazze – and set to manage the new Marina di Livorno in Tuscany – it is gradually ramping up to lead all of Azimut Benetti’s tourist ports. Donatella Zucca reports
During COVID19, Marina di Varazze Srl took the opportunity to completely renovate its facilities so as to offer the maximum possible to boaters. Positive results were swiftly seen: in 2020 visitor numbers grew by 25% compared to 2019, and in 2021 there were over 20% more permanent berth holders. The regeneration was a courageous move at self-examination and created greater synergy between the leisure, commercial and residential elements of the site. The extraordinary renovation work of eight buildings at the 15 year-old marina completed last year. Decking was also replaced on the breakwater and the piers, which offer 800 berths for vessels up to 45m (148ft) long, and video surveillance systems, Wi-Fi and webcams were enhanced so that owners could view boats even if they were not allowed to visit them. New companies, including Scanner, Settemari Yacht, Beneteau and Cranchi dealer Bellini Nautica, have opened new offices at the marina. Lusben Varazze, a repair and refit yard, was established in 2016 in infrastructure formerly belonging to Baglietto Shipyards. It joined Azimut Benetti’s Lusben network in 2019 and has also been important to the regeneration, giving Marina di Varazze control of a repair facility on its doorstep. Focusing on an events programme has also been crucial, and the Varazze season made its debut in June with the Classic Cars 2022 competition. Artisans in the Marina, a food and shopping gallery featuring over 20 restaurants is another notable initiative, as are environmental moves to include eight supercharge points for Tesla electric cars. This charging facility will likely be expanded to suit other car brands and also electric boats. Add the 250-berth Marina di Valletta and Livorno Porta a Mare in Tuscany in the mix and Marina di Varazze is all set to reflect the entrepreneurial vision for which the Vitelli family – Azimut Benetti founders and owners – are renowned. Giorgio Casareto, CEO and general manager at Marina di Varazze, sums up: “The Varazze, Livorno and Malta marinas have logical positioning. They allow us to take customers in different geographical areas and offer them a navigation experience along the coasts and in port that is similar to their marina homeport.” He notes, for clarification, that Marina di Livorno is still “on paper” but 95% of the way towards being awarded a state concession. Despite the benefits of the networking experience, Casareto realises the huge importance of local tourism. The Piedmontese and Lombard tourism component is crucial for Varazze, and Valletta has its own strategic reach on an island that is experiencing strong economic growth. “Varazze is performing well and is close to 100% occupancy,” he confirms. “In 2021, we inaugurated an office and dealership for Azimut Benetti, a harbour office, restaurants, bars etc. Livorno will have the same and will cater for boat owners from Romagna and Tuscany, have moorings for large boats, and benefit from the presence of the Azimut Benetti and Lusben shipyards, as well as the availability of the Livorno port drydocks, for which Azimut Bennetti has a ten year concession. Q: Are your green initiatives the same for all marinas? A: In principle, they are similar – and we have some interesting solutions. For example, we use sea water to cool the air conditioning systems, use electricity instead of gas to eliminate emissions, and now – of course – offer charging points for electric cars. We have an agreement with Tesla but we hope that Tesla will open the market to everyone thus making the technical and logistical management of the facility easier. We are also ready with charge facilities for boats but what we are missing are the boats. Currently, hybrid boat projects are being worked on but the shipyards are moving towards electric. Q: Have you seen an increase in permanent berth holders at marinas other than Varazze? A: All of our marinas have a high level of long term berth holders. This gives them economic stability. Varazze has, however, reached saturation point. For Valletta, and in the future for Marina d Livorno, the transient component will have greater significance. In Valletta we can accommodate up to four visiting superyachts. This means a lot in a marina with just 250 berths. Livorno will have 20 to 25 berths for boats over 40m [131ft]. Q: What is the average sized boat moored in Varazze? A: When the marina opened, it was 12-15m [39-49ft]. Today, it’s from 16/17m [53ft] to 24/25m [79ft] and all berths of this size are pretty much occupied. In the medium range of 10-15m [33-49ft] we have some difficulty filling berths but we are at full occupancy for berths up to 10m [33ft]. Q: How does Lusben Varazze fit into the Lusben-Azimut Benetti circuit, and how much has been invested in redeveloping infrastructure? A: Lusben Varazze was established four years ago with a licence agreement to use the Azimut Benetti brand name. This applies for boats up to 50m [164ft] but not below 30m [98ft] so as not to compete with the local yard in the marina. By the end of the 2022 season, Lusben Varazze will have managed 24 to 25 projects as we had a full yard all winter. We are currently in discussion with the local municipality for approval of a site renovation project for which we foresee an investment of around €7 million. There are difficulties and delays but we are trying to get agreement. This will cover demolition of the old buildings and construction of one new facility that will be aesthetically in line with the marina. This is an important step for Varazze, which has long been involved in urban redevelopment of an area that is now increasingly residential. Q: How do you manage berths and customer relations? A: The booking systems for transients and permanent berth holders at Varazze and Valletta are managed independently but there is collaboration for cross over activity. Each marina has experts in the commercial office who handle long term contracts, from the first meeting with customers through to their overall marina experience. We favour direct contact and a personalised approach as clients, although used to using digital communications in their daily lives, still prefer simple experiences with a strong human component. We are, however, developing a tool that will enable this relationship to be digitised especially in the small scale operational management phase. Q: How are the shipyards located in the marina? A: To the west of Marina di Varazze we have a complete range of shipyards and small artisan facilities. These range from the yard that lifts a boat from the water to those who repair, transform and maintain them. We also have engine, upholstery and painting workshops etc. Q: What is the mix for sail and motor? A: Sailing boats have dedicated space with Beneteau Vela and the technical and commercial office of Solaris. Italia Yachts delivers boats to the marina and, like other sailing brands, takes advantage of our marina and yard facilities. In the marina, our average water depth is 3.5-4m [11ft 6in-13ft] but we also have 6m [20ft] depths, which is important for sailing yachts. However, around 60% of the vessels we moor are motorboats, which makes us aligned with the market in general.