The Marina Marketing Mix | MooringSpot

The Marina Marketing Mix

The Marina Marketing Mix

What makes a marina appealing? What makes the difference between a successful, happy and poplulated harbour, and one close to abandonment? On MooringSpot, we are often confronted to these questions, as the understanding of such dynamics are essential to marina developers and to investors, but also to berth users and boat owners, as they also wish to understand how to choose a home for their yacht and for their leisure time. Therefore, a better understanding of Marina Marketing and the business strategies adopted by marina managers are very relevant to all parties, to all stakeholders in the boating world. Marketing has various definitions. One of the simplest and more widely spread, from Doctor Philip Kotler, is “the science and art of exploring, creating and delivering value to satisfy the needs of a target market, at a profit”. It also encompasses the various processes and actions an entity may use to reach a desired perception and behaviour from a target market, from its customers. In day to day business, without going too far into the philosophy and science behind Marketing, most people nowadays have a relatively good understanding of this subject as we live in a consumer society. Therefore, thanks to the input of some our partners and friends in the marina world, we are attempting to define a Marina Marketing Mix, as a tool to better understand what makes a marina spin.
What is a “Marketing Mix”?
“Marketing Mix” is a term well known to anyone who has had a basic education or experience in business management. It is a concept, a tool, used to better apprehend how a product is brought to the market and perceived by customers. It is widely known as the “4Ps”:

  • Product: What is the product? What are its qualities, its disadvantages? How old is it? How valuable is it to its users?
  • Promotion: What is the communication about this product? What media are used to raise awareness about it?
  • Price: What is its cost to the customer?
  • Place: Where can the product be found and purchased? How is it distributed?

This is a simple way of defining the marketing mix, first produced by McCarty in 1960. Since then, several people have revised this definition or reinvented it, often adapting it to specific products or services, in different industries. Among these are the “4Cs” (“Consumer, Cost, Communication, Convenience”, or “Commodity, Cost, Communication, Channel”), or the well-known “7Ps” from Booms & Bitner in 1982, which tackle the marketing of a service, as opposed to a product, and to some extent, it is nowadays used in high value-added products, such as luxury products. In addition to the old 4Ps, the extended marketing mix also takes into account:

  • People: Who are the people interacting with the product or service? Not just the customers, but the personnel producing the service, those interacting with the customer, those who recommend it or prescribe it?
  • Process: How is the service and value delivered? How long is the process? How easy is it? How efficient is it?
  • Physical evidence: It is particularly important in providing a service. No matter how abstract it may be a service needs a level of tangibility. How tangible is the value of the service? This can often be referred to as branding, stationary, websites, clarity of contracts, etc. In luxury products, the question is also about how obvious the superior quality of the products are compared to mass market equivalents.

Ultimately, the marketing mix is a guide, a check-list, a means of conceiving something as abstract as marketing can be. Whether you choose to use “Ps” or “Cs”, these are only as good as your understanding of these factors and the meaning you put behind these various terms. Every type of product or service has a mix of its own.
The Factors that Define a Marina's Success
It is difficult to transpose the concepts we have outlined above, for products or services, to a marina. Is it a product? Is it a service? Is it a place? Can it be compared to a hotel or a theme park?
On such questions, the input of MDL Marinas has been most insightful. MDL is Europe’s largest owner and marina developer. The company has decades of experience in developing marinas, at a profit in various parts of the world. Its choice of marinas is key in its success. Its experience is so widely recognised that when other marina developers are confronted to situations they have trouble handling, they call upon MDL Consultancy to find solutions. Therefore, through years, the company has devised a method to assessing the potential of marinas by quantifying the factors and assets which contribute to a marina’s overall success:

Boat Owners

In all the marketing definitions we have brushed upon so far, one word always comes up: “Target”. The target market for a marina is its users, the boat owners who choose to stay there whether it be long term or just for an overnight stay. A successful marina has to be adapted to its users and not the opposite. In this perspective, a segmentation or categorisation of boat owners is needed. The size of boats (or yachts) can be an indicator of the wealth and purchasing power of berth users, but how a boat owner enjoys his/her yacht and the marina he/she stays in cannot merely be defined by size. We could therefore consider there are 4 generic boat-owner profiles:

Family Man / Family Woman

"As the owner of a boat and father (or mother), the focal point is my family, especially my children. The boat is there not just my enjoyment but for everyone I love. This is what defines my priorities. I need areas where my children can play so that they can get tired without tiring me out. I need places to dine with them, satisfying their tastes. I do not need an expensive restaurant where we all need to be well dressed. On the contrary, I need somewhere relaxing and affordable, where my six-month old child can choose to vomit on my poorly chosen Hawaiian shirt just at the beginning of main course, without me feeling embarrassed about the ordeal. If the kids hate going to the marina, they are going to hate the boat, and I am then going to have to close-off this avenue of pleasure."


The Competitor is a racer. "As a competitive boat owner, my pleasure at sea, is about sport and performance". Generally, the Competitor is an experienced and passionate sailor, but he or she may also be a powerboat owner. As performance is essential, facilities dedicated to maintaining and enhancing the yacht are high on the priorities’ list: Shipyards, shipchandlers and shops (specialised in the type of equipment required), sailmakers, etc.
"The experience of boating is about me. When I am on-board it is to have fun and possibly for a few victories. It is how I catch up with friends who share my passion and where I leave the family behind."
To a lesser extent, this type of boat-owner enjoys the social life which goes in hand with regattas. Bars, restaurants and of course, a yacht club where one can enjoy the end of a day racing at sea are appreciated.


The Jet-Setter is what we could define as the typical yacht owner. "As a jet-setter, luxury and comfort are paramount in my enjoyment of the marina, just as they are on-board my yacht. On the yacht (or superyacht or megayacht), comfort must be as high as in a luxury villa. The inconveniences of being at sea must not affect me in my leisure time. The marina must deliver an equivalent level of amenities, just as one would expect of a prestigious hotel resort. Every aspect of the experience in the harbour must meet the highest standards. The services found locally and the manner in which the marina is conceived must be flawless. I am willing to pay the fair price for this level of satisfaction and I want the harbour staff to know it."


"As an enthusiast, my passion for my boat is comparable to the other profiles. However, I am the least demanding of all. My budget is reasonable (or limited). I enjoy repairing and maintaining the boat myself. My boat is usually second-hand and though it is not featured in the latest magazines, or an award winning model, it is everything I need. To me the marina’s purpose is merely to provide somewhere safe and affordable to keep my boat and pursue having fun on-board. As long as the harbour serves its prime purpose at the best possible cost, I am willing to make compromises."
These are generic profiles and no boat or yacht owner fits in only one of these categories. These descriptions could be seen as caricatures. Jet-setters and Competitors have families too. The owner of a classic J-class yacht may well be considered more as Competitor than a Jet-setter. Every single individual who enjoys the sea is unique. The types of boat owners are in fact as varied as the types of boats and yachts that can be found.
It is of course possible for a same marina to adapt to the needs of multiple types of boat owners, but then it needs to conceive a clever way of:

  • mixing these people with facilities that respond to their common needs and habits
  • creating a subtle segregation within the marina so that each finds what he/she needs but possible only in the larger harbours



A marina has to be accessible. If its users have to travel hours, or if getting to and from the boat is a horrendous journey, it is going to take all the fun out of the owning a boat. This is valid for owners who live relatively far from the marina just as it is for those who live in the same region. In the first case, if there are regular flights from where the boat owner lives to the marina’s nearest airport, enjoying just a week-end or two week holiday are feasible. If on the other hand, should multiple transits in airports be needed to make the journey, and it takes a day or more to reach the marina, the boat owner is not going to spend much time on-board.
For those living closer to the marina, popular coastal destinations can have very dense traffic in the season. If hours in traffic jams are needed to get to and from the marina, the boat owner may feel frustration when he or she steps on-board for a just a day trip.


Obviously, it takes more than breakwaters, docks and bollards to make a marina. Facilities are essential. Nowadays, at the very least, most boat owners need shore-power and water supplied on their berths, usually accessible on pedestals found on each berth or more commonly, every two berths. Then, a fuel quay is necessary in each marina. When there is none, there should be easy access to fuel truck or there should be harbours extremely close-by which provide these facilities and can cover the needs of the boats in the area. Short of this, they would be marooned in their marina.
One key and yet frequently neglected aspect is shower-rooms and lavatories. Though larger boats and yachts may not depend on these facilities, having access to comfortable and clean bathrooms makes a huge difference, especially after a day at sea when you are full of salt. These must also be within reasonable walking distance of the various quays and pontoons.
Of course, the services and facilities that can be found in a marina are endless. In our ever more connected society, it is now almost unthinkable not to find wifi in a marina. At least one shipchandler in each marina, or in the area, would seem a minimum. Boatyards, with the possibility of making repairs and maintenance work, as well as dry storage, can only contribute to success.
Ultimately, a marina must be able to provide a chain of services that make owning a boat practical, as well as a chain of services to cater for the needs of its users to enjoy the boating lifestyle (shops, restaurants, bars, etc.), to the extent that in some marinas, everything can be found on site. In such cases, you will find it impacts the atmosphere. Marinas targeting the superyachts and megayachts are particularly attentive to crew, with actions taken to make their stay ever more comfortable and to facilitate logistics for them. If people do not need to leave the harbour premises, there will be a higher concentration of individuals relaxing, walking about, enjoying themselves on site, thus boosting the human warmth perceived in the marina. A buzzing marina will draw in outsiders, people who do not have boats but come to enjoy the local lifestyle. At the other end of the spectrum, in ports that have a poor selection of facilities, boat owners staying will have to leave their boats moored in the marina to go about their business, and this will create the scene of a marina that may be full of boats, but will be as quiet as a graveyard.


The location and destination in which the marina is can be considered as the most determining factors. To reach full occupancy a marina needs to be a destination of its own so that:

  • Resident boat owners are somewhere they enjoy when staying in the harbour, or in the winter
  • Visiting boats stop by for the night or for longer stays, during the season, when resident boats leave.

In addition, by sea, the marina must be within reach of other interesting destinations. Ideally, there must be sufficient attractions towards which to cruise to:

  • Within half a day’s cruising distance. It must be possible to find somewhere worth going to for a picnic for instance. One cove, anchoring location, or port is not enough. There must be a sufficient variety of places to go to, so that day outings are not repetitive.
  • Within a full day’s and/or full night’s cruising distance.
  • Within two days or more.

Therefore, no marina is an island entire of itself.


The boat or yacht owner is usually the decision maker. He or she has bought the boat, pays the related expenses and is the person who pays the berth rental fees or has purchased a lease for mooring in the marina. However, the decision makers are bound to be influenced in their choices by the people who are socially close to them:

  • Their family
  • Their friends
  • Their Captain and crew
  • Yacht management companies (B2B Marketing)

"Drop Dead" or "High Flying" Factors

This might be the most influential factor of all, which can determine the success or downfall of a marina, often regardless of the resources and efforts which developers invest.
One of the simplest examples is the port of Saint Tropez: It is one of the most coveted places in the Mediterranean to moor long term or just for a night. It is a small harbour, with a picturesque town but little infrastructure destined to maintain or repair boats, compared to neighbouring marinas. There is no real customer service from the port staff. For instance, in the summer, if you wish to book a berth for one night, well in advance, you will never get a positive response. You will only get a response (positive or negative) when you turn up right outside the harbour and you make your request via VHF or by telephone. If you have come all this way to be turned down, you will have to settle with anchoring nearby. However, there will always be more boats and yachts wanting to moor in the Port of St Tropez than there are berths in the marina. Why? Simply because it is St Tropez, one of the most renowned destinations in France, a small typical fishing village become an attraction for tourists all over the world, made famous by the celebrities who go there. Whether the berth rental fees are high or not, whether the shore-power is adequate or not, the marina will always be full of boats. This is why this marina can be deemed to benefit from the “high flying”, unique, St Tropez factor.
At the complete opposite, some marinas, no matter how well developed they are, will be hindered by “drop dead” factors.
Pollution issues are always perceived as major deterrents in a marina. Active industrial sites, oil tanker shipyards, gas terminals, airport runways, when they are located just next to you, can put you off a harbour. Even when pollution levels are in fact relatively low compared to the nuisance perceived by boat owners have, their opinion is what matters most. The noise, the scenery, the pollutants found in the water or when cleaning their boats, may not necessarily drive them all away, particularly when the region is popular and when available berths are rare in other marinas.
The Comprehensive Marketing Mix
The Essence of a Marina

From analysing the nature of marinas through multiple factors, it appears there are different types of marinas. There are for instance home-ports, which are mostly full off-season, and there are destination-ports which are the busiest during the season, or marina that are both home-ports and destination-ports. But then the categorisation becomes more complex if we refine the criteria, depending on the type of destinations, the type of facilities, the type of users. Assessing the potential of the marina can in many ways be comparable to auditing a hotel, a resort, an amusement park, a golf course or a residential complex. What distinguishes a harbour from them?

The Duality of a Marina

If we go back to basics, there is one aspect that differentiates a harbour from any of the types of locations mentioned above. A marina is a crossing zone, a border zone or a buffer zone, between the life we live ashore and the time we spend on a boat, time at sea, or in other terms, the “fun-time” which is what yachting is all about. There is in fact a duality in what constitutes the assets of a marina:

  • from a shore-based perspective
  • from a sea-based perspective

When you are in a marina, you are never really meant to feel on land or ashore. You are supposed to be in-between, in a relaxing yachting atmosphere.
The multiple factors that determine the popularity of a marina can be categorised as influencing in one or in the other perspective, or in both.

Distances & Locations

Many of the aspects that characterise a marina are not necessarily found within its walls, but outside, in the town next to it, in the region, or in the destinations that can be enjoyed within a few miles at sea. These aspects have a relative impact on a marina depending on their proximity. There is therefore also the perspective of distance and geography to bear in mind in a marina’s marketing mix. Using location and geography, each determining factor could be categorised as originating from:

  • Within the marina
  • In the town(s) or ports nearby, in the region
  • In nearby regions or countries
  • Within a one-hour flight or with 2 days of cruising
  • Etc.

The Marina Marketing Wheel 

The 3 Main Forces


Facilities and services within a marina are aspects that a harbour’s administration can often adapt or enhance to improve convenience for its users. The infrastructure surrounding the port is also of great importance, whether it be inland or in neighbouring harbours. Roads and public transportation are also part of the infrastructure from which boat owners indirectly benefit from. The list of infrastructural needs inside or outside a marina could be extensive. Here are some examples:

  • Security
  • Showers/WC
  • Fuel
  • Shipyard/Boat Maintenance & Repair
  • Fuel
  • Chandleries
  • General Provisioning (e.g. supermarkets or catering)
  • Shops
  • Restaurants, bars, cafés
  • Transportation (roads, airports, trains, etc.)
  • Shore-power and water
  • Etc.


There are several stakeholders in the existence of a marina. Their perception of the marina and how they interact with it will determine its success.

  • The Boat / Yacht Owners themselves
  • The Prescribers: Family, Friends, Captains and Crew (when applicable)
  • Boat/Yacht Industry, service providers,
  • Marina Staff / Personnel
  • Local People / Local Culture
  • Expat communities
  • Etc.


The most prominent factors are those that make the difference between a marina which is a popular destination, a “High-Flyer”, and an abandoned boat-park.
In broad terms this can be the combination of the nice things to do in and around the marina. A marina which is also a famous touristic attraction will have many visitors on boats, just as it attracts other tourists from the shore. It will generally contribute to the attractiveness of the ones near it, sometimes compensating for some of their shortfalls, or sometimes operating in complementarity with them. An example can be seen between destination-ports on islands and marinas near them on the continent. There are many cases where the small picturesque insular ports, coveted during the season, have more than enough berths available to rent in the winter. A greater number of boat-owners will choose to be based on the mainland, where it is more accessible, more convenient and more cost effective to keep a boat.
MooringSpot, August 2015.


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