Kuwait Yacht Show floats their boats

After organising a parade of seven yachts, Nouf Al Hajri and her business partner thought: Why not organise a full-fledged boat show right here in Kuwait? Two years later, the Kuwait Yacht Show is packing in the crowds.

Nouf Al Hajri, the Kuwait Yacht Show director of operations, says organising a boat show has been the most difficult thing she had done. Courtesy Kuwait Yacht Show
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The second Kuwait Yacht Show took place this month, occupying triple the space of a year ago. Nouf Al Hajri, the show’s Kuwaiti-Lebanese director of operations, explains how the event started and why she and her business partner, Zeina Mokaddam, are not daunted by the pre-eminence of Dubai’s massive boat show.

How did the idea for a boat show come about?

We have a publishing house and we were hired by Seas and Deserts Group, run by Ahmed Al Omari, to do a magazine for him. It has two sections, one for yachting and one for the desert – because what we do here in Kuwait is, in the summer we do watersports, then in the winter we take our ATVs and go camping. He signed with Azimut yachts [as their dealer] in March 2012 and asked us to do an event for him. We did a parade at Marina Waves – all of the seven yachts were included and we had 100 VVIPs. It was such a successful event; all the boats were sold that year. People started asking us for our business cards as the organisers. So we said: “Why don’t we open an events company and start organising events? We need to have a portfolio; let’s do a boat show”. So that’s how it started.

You make it sound easy.

Organising a boat show is one of the most difficult things I’ve done. It takes one year’s work. You have to travel to all the boat shows, market your country. Because we started from scratch, we had to gain the trust of the international market. Shipping the boats, let alone booking their space, bringing them back, getting the staff here, their stands – it’s a big investment, so why should they come? You have to convince them. You also have to get the support of the locals. We started only with local companies, we had no internationals here. It was small: 6,000 square metres. Even the locals had doubts because we hadn’t had a boat show before. Whenever we went to one company they would say: “Did the other company sign?” So we had a press conference, we had them all at a roundtable and we had their contracts ready – and they signed. We put them in a corner and it worked. But they were happy, they sold a lot. When we finished the boat show we did a report and we visited all the exhibitors to get their feedback. They said aftersales went on for six months. We’ve done fairly well for the second year, getting international companies from the UAE, Poland, France Italy and Bahrain. Other brands are represented by dealers.

It seems there is definitely an appetite among Kuwaitis for this type of event.

One out of every 44 Kuwaitis owns a boat. All Kuwaitis go to the Miami Boat Show, to the Cannes Boat Show. We have a high purchasing power but we don’t buy from here, we travel. So we are trying to localise the capital from the Kuwaitis, put it back into the country. We are also trying to get new dealerships to get new brands here.

So the second boat show has international brands. What else?

The number of exhibits – it’s three times bigger in terms of space. We have an area for the Kuwaiti youth sponsored by the ministry of youth affairs. A lot of Kuwaitis are world champions in jet ski and wakeboarding so we want more people to know about them. They are raising our flag everywhere but they are not getting enough media exposure. We also added entertainment. We also have more governmental support. Last year we were under the patronage of the ministry of information and five ministers came to cut the opening ribbon jointly. That was such a push for us to continue. Now we are under the patronage of the prime minister of Kuwait. Last year, we were expecting to get 5,000 visitors and we got 6,300 – 2,500 of whom were VIP. This year we expect 10,000 but I hope more come [final figures: 15,877 visits from 10,000 unique visitors].

Isn’t it intimidating going up against the Dubai International Boat Show, which is the biggest such show in the region?

It gives us a push because if Dubai can make it, we can make it too. They’ve been going for 22 years; it’s our second year and we grew three times bigger – so in our 10th year we might be 100 times bigger. I don’t want to be the biggest or the best – I want to cater to my market and I want the world to know about the Kuwaitis’ love for the sea. We have local shipyards and they build such good boats. And we also have three Middle East premieres: the Azimut 55s, the Azimut Atlantis 34 and the Boston Whaler 370.

Does that boost the show’s prestige?

Of course. Everyone wants to be unique and when you own something that there is only one of, then everyone knows you. We are famous for that; everyone in the region is famous for that. So, yes, it’s easier to sell something that is a world premiere.

lgutcher@thenational.ae