How did this year’s Kuwait International Boat Show compare to last year’s event?
From the organization standpoint it was far easier.
We learned a lot from last year’s event. It was a new event back then, with new contractors. Everything was untested, so we learned from some of the obstacles we encountered then. It was much smoother this year, and we were fully prepared for natural disasters. Last year, two days before the event and after everything had been built, the wind smashed everything and we had to rebuild in 24 hours so that the show could open. This year we built structures which the wind could not bring down, so even though we had some bad weather, we only had minor damage.
Why did you decide to hold a boat show in Kuwait?
There is a large leisure marine market in the Middle East and not many people are aware of it. Everyone is focused on Dubai and the boat show there, but the total number of registered leisure vessels in Dubai is 4,000; in Kuwait it is 30,000. Kuwait is far in advance when it comes to boating and the boating lifestyle than anywhere else in the region, and all the exhibitors here will say that more than half of the vessels they sell at the Dubai Boat Show are to Kuwaitis. To us it is a mystery why Kuwait did not have a boat show before now.
What response have you had to the show?
The response from the industry and exhibitors has been fantastic; they showed that by almost doubling the exhibition space of the show this year. The public’s support has been tremendous as well, both through the gates and in sales. In a boat show there needs to be equilibrium between boat sales and the number of people who attend.
When will you start planning for next year’s show?
It starts the day after this event ends. We have learned a lot from this year and we are planning to expand next year and we need to plan how we do that.
Why did you choose Al Kout and not a venue in Kuwait City itself?
Tamdeen, who own the venue, were willing to accommodate the event. They have to balance their tenants’ needs with our needs, so it was not easy to take it on. But they see the potential of this event, highlighting this area as a destination in Kuwait and bringing people who might not have come here before. It has a great marina and atmosphere and we felt the fountains in the middle of the shopping area had potential; it was a very different way of showcasing boats.
As a company, Knotika is organizing a number of boat shows around the region in the coming months, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. Is the market there for all these boat shows?
The market is definitely there. As far as we can tell, there is $30 billion worth of investment in waterfront development going into this region for those who have boats and for marina facilities. They are being created; the love of boating is here and culturally it is part of the local people’s DNA, so it is just a matter of putting all the ducks in a row. A lot of people look at boats as toys for the rich, but some boats are no more expensive than a small car. Different people have different ways of enjoying the water. Boat shows highlight the whole spectrum and highlight to various governments the importance of the marine industry. It contributes to the GDP and has an enormous tourism potential – and that is all for the good.
Do you think this region will soon be a boating venue like the South of France?
I hope the Gulf turns into a playground like the Mediterranean. It is a beautiful body of water; it is friendly; there are some great places to visit; it has great fishing and it offers sanctuary from the European winters.
How did you get involved with the industry in the region?
I am Iranian but I lived in Brisbane, Australia for 20 years, where for the past few years I worked for the boating industry association organizing boat shows and marketing the marine lifestyle. I came to Dubai in 2006 and noticed a growth in the leisure marine industry in the region and the potential for getting involved in it from the starting point. The Australian market is very well established, as they have had about 70 years of continuous production. This region is in its infancy, and there was a chance to be involved from the start, implement some ideas and make it grow more productive.
Knotika deals with more than boat shows?
Yes, the shows are just one element of what we do. The company started with a boating magazine four years ago and then moved on to establish the first Marine Mall in the world in Dubai. There is nothing else like it anywhere. We have provided a facility for boat dealers to showcase their products all year round, just like they do in a boat show, and we have 30 dealers there. This means the consumers can see them in a nice, modern, air-conditioned atmosphere. Within the mall we have the largest marine store in the UAE, over 1,000 sq m of parts, fishing gear and accessories. We have also established a school to train people in boating skills. It was from there that we started to organize boat shows, first in Kuwait. Abu Dhabi will be held in November; Bahrain is being finalized; Jeddah is planned for mid-January 2009; and shows in Qatar and Oman are on the way. We were surprised that there were no boat shows in these countries already. Last November we launched Knotika TV, which deals with marine programs.
Our next project is Knotika Island. We have bought an island in The World off the Dubai coast and it will be a purely boating destination, which will have a boutique hotel and restaurants.
One of our newest products is a vertical yacht storage, which is a revolutionary new concept in dry docking, where the boats can be stored in storeys inside the building, up to unlimited heights and for boats up to 200 tons.
What does Knotika mean?
It is a combination of Knot, the measurement of speed in marine activities, and ika, the flying fish.
Do you have a passion for the sea?
I did not have a passion for it originally, but over the last 10 years of being involved with the industry, I have developed a passion for it. I do not have a boat of my own, but I have access to any number of boats should the need arise.
Why do people buy boats?
From our experience in Australia, the biggest driving factor for people buying boats is because it brings the family together. The family can be in the same house, but the boys will be on the Playstation, the girls will be on the Internet, the mother is in one room, the father is somewhere else. On a boat, the family is together and the boat is the key driver in bringing them together.
Fishing is another major influence as it is an incredibly popular sport.
Away from work what is your passion?
Snow skiing! I started skiing when I was five years old and I have not stopped. I started in the mountains north of Tehran and then continued to ski in Australia, New Zealand and Europe. My favourite resort is Dizin in northern Iran for its pure quality of snow, the diversity of its runs and the great skiing environment. Where else in the world can you go on a 10km powder snow run and not come across anybody else at all?
What next for you?
I’m working now on the Emirates International Boat Show in Abu Dhabi from November 25-29. It is shaping up to be a big show and we have received very positive response to it since it was launched.
First published in Men's Passion issue #6 September 2008