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State of the Recreational Boating Industry: A Deep Dive with Frank Hugelmeyer

The recreational boating industry has always been a significant contributor to America’s outdoor recreation economy. In a recent address at the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition and Conference Industry Breakfast, Frank Hugelmeyer, the president of National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), shed light on the current state and future prospects of this vital industry.

A Booming Past, A Challenging Present

Hugelmeyer began by highlighting the industry’s achievements. “Recreational boating and fishing remain the number one contributor to America’s outdoor recreation economy, being the largest activity in 27 States and the District of Columbia,” he stated. The pandemic brought about a change in how people lived, worked, and played, leading to a surge in outdoor activities and, consequently, a spike in consumer spending on boats.

However, with every boom comes a correction. Hugelmeyer pointed out that the industry is currently facing shifting market dynamics and economic headwinds. Factors such as rising interest rates, the return of student loans, and inflation have impacted boat sales. He also mentioned the “Revenge travel Trend” of 2023, which saw a record number of U.S tourists traveling to Europe, further constraining people’s time and money for outdoor activities. He emphasized the need for the industry to adapt to shifting market dynamics, saying, “Gone are the days when we had little to no competition. We are back to an environment where we must compete for every dollar, every customer, and attract more consumers to our lifestyle.”

Frank Hugelmeyer delved deeper into the economic landscape, highlighting the significant contribution of recreational boating and fishing to the U.S. GDP. He stated, “The latest data from the Bureau of economic analysis shows that the outdoor recreation economy generated $862 billion in economic output, accounting for 1.9 percent of all U.S GDP with recreational boating and fishing leading the sector.” This underscores the industry’s substantial economic footprint.

The Industry’s Response

Despite these challenges, the industry remains resilient. Hugelmeyer emphasized the importance of adapting and innovating to stay ahead. He introduced the “Discover Boating” initiative, which transformed a modest marketing campaign into North America’s largest year-round promotional vehicle for the outdoor recreation sector. This initiative drove more than 3.6 billion consumer impressions and generated a record $30 million in annual marketing value.

Advocacy and Challenges Ahead

Hugelmeyer also touched upon the challenges posed by regulatory bodies. He discussed NOAA’s proposal to institute vessel speed restrictions along the Atlantic seaboard, which he described as the “greatest threat and restriction of public access to our nation’s waterways.” The NMMA, along with a coalition of partners, is actively working against this proposal. He emphasized the industry’s commitment to ocean conservation while opposing regulations that unfairly target recreational boaters. Hugelmeyer urged, “We need to get loud and we need everyone’s help…you cannot call and contact these people enough.”

The Power of Boating

In his closing remarks, Hugelmeyer emphasized the unique ability of boating to bring people together. He said, “As boaters, we all know that when we’re on the water, daily stresses subside. We wave to one another, help each other, and share the greatest of outdoor adventures.” He urged everyone to spend more time on the water and share the joys of recreational boating.

The recreational boating industry, like many others, faces its set of challenges. However, with leaders like Frank Hugelmeyer at the helm and initiatives like “Discover Boating,” there’s hope for a brighter future. As Hugelmeyer aptly put it, “It’ll be good for our souls, good for business, and most importantly, good for America.”

Merrill Charette

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