Meet the Messe Frankfurt gent behind the event

There is a no-nonsense intensity about Michael Dehn that suggests to me the Boatica Cape Town Boat Show is in good hands.

The new managing director of Messe Frankfurt South Africa leans across the table like a cop extracting a confession.  Or is he about to let me in on a secret?

All I know for sure is that, with his immaculate suit and direct manner, the man I’ve come to see at the Two Oceans Bootleggers is not fond of mediocrity.

Secretly, I congratulate myself for not wearing my faded purple vellies.

The truth is, he begins in answer to my question, that Messe Frankfurt is not overly concerned about the volume of visitors at this year’s show, the first Boatica Cape Town in three long years; what matters is the quality of visitor.

Yes there is obvious potential for a much bigger event, given the show’s picture-perfect location in one of Africa’s top marinas, not to mention the imperious Table Mountain backdrop and early summer twinkle across Table Bay. But first things first says Dehn: the show is there to connect boat builders to buyers, and of course to service all the other role players too.

“We’re not here to have an event with the maximum number of people; we want to get the right people here,” he explains in earnest, referencing Dubai’s Automechanika show as a case in point – hugely successful despite a low visitor-exhibitor ratio. “I need exhibitors to tell me that they had a fantastic show because we had the right people there. I want to meet that expectation,” says Dehn.

It’s an expectation all-the-more urgent in post-Covid events world, where large numbers are no longer the flavour du jour. Better a focused target market that means business than a massive foot count that doesn’t add real value.

Dehn says South African yards have the additional challenge of being far removed from their primary market – overseas buyers, particularly from Europe. All the more reason for Show organisers to attract these potential buyers rather than local watersport enthusiasts who come for some slap tjips and boating eye-candy – although Dehn is quick to point out that the two are not mutually exclusive. Messe Frankfurt can do the numbers game too, and has the shows to prove it. But attracting a relevant audience will take time and will also depend on other stakeholders, notably the City of Cape Town and the V&A Waterfront.

For now Dehn is content to satisfy his core exhibitors, some of whom he interacted with at the recent SABBEX boat builder awards. “Some (boat builders) mentioned that South Africa was not their market, that they sell internationally, and I got the feeling that some of them are not so keen to invest locally.”

“I see that as a big opportunity,” says Dehn, who feels the Boatica event could serve as a bridge to the international market. “That is the big vision. I see a golden opportunity to establish this (Boatica) date as the time for Europeans and Americans to come here and look at their boats. That is what we want to establish and that is what we want to realise by working with the industry.”

“There is a lot of potential. I can firmly say that, especially the European market has a very favourable view of South Africa. That never changes. We just have to create the destination event.”

The Show should also operate as a springboard into the growing African market with its largely untapped potential, Dehn adds, and should also accommodate a broader spectrum of marine sector suppliers

“Repair and maintenance is another aspect I would like to increase at the show, because the business is also about all the services and everything you need as a boat owner. So that to me is also an integral part of the concept of the show and something we want to expand on.”

Dehn is hoping the show stakeholders stay the course in order to realise the big picture plan: “All of this does take time and we need to take it step by step. Within three years we would have achieved quite a bit.”

And early indications are that local exhibitors are jumping aboard, no doubt also buoyed by the idea of an in-person show rather than virtual limbo. Messe Frankfurt Portfolio Director Kathryn Frew adds her voice to our interview with some encouraging news: “We’ve had interest from clients we’ve been trying to get on board for two years, and there’s interest from service providers as well – they’re coming this year. People know that face-to-face is the best way to do business,” Frew says.

Dehn believes as much as Covid permanently changed the events industry with new digital offerings, it also served as a reminder of the supremacy of in-person events. He believes strict lockdowns are a thing of the past, at least until the next major pandemic, in a hundred years time at least. “Of course there have been changes (due to Covid), with more of a digital experience. But when you walk around the show and see something you didn’t even think of – that cannot be digitalized. Maybe they could do that in the distant future, but right now we are still in a physical world, and that is why this business model still works so well,” says Dehn.

In a statement issued earlier this month Frew pointed out that this year marked the Show’s 20th edition and the third under the watch of Messe Frankfurt South Africa. Some of the brands already confirmed to participate this year include:

Abromowitz Sharp & Associates, Alex Forbes, AllSpice Yachting, Aquadex Africa, Astra Fasteners, Atomic Power Boats, BG Boat Parts, Boating World, CarbiePoles, Efoil Cape Town, Esthec / Cloudwize / Evadex, Hop Yacht, International Marine Certification Institute, JL Audio Marine, Jo Fensham Yacht Upholstery, Maiden Voyage Industries, Marine Zone Western Cape (Pty) Ltd, Maverick Yachts, MDM, Mercury / Rutherford Marine, Natal Caravans, NSRI , R & M Boatbuilders, SAIMI, SALTECH, Seascape Marine Services, Shelter Marine, South African Maritime Safety Authority, South Sea Suzuki, Southern Power, SuperTech Yachts, Suzuki, Taylor Marine SA (Furuno), Turning Fork T/A After Market Products, Ullman Sails Cape Town, Unique Spaces / Universal concerts, Vermont Sales / Power Tools repairs, Vetus Maxwell, VIKING LIFE-SAVING EQUIPMENT, Waterfront Charters, Yacht & Power Sales and Yachtport SA.

Kathryn Frew, Messe Frankfurt’s boatica Show Director says, “After a two year hiatus we’re thrilled that we can finally meet our exhibitors and visitors face to face at the show again. This is the 20th edition of the event, the third run by Messe Frankfurt South Africa, and we’re pulling out all the stops to create an event that’s going to satisfy the discerning boating enthusiast.”

“Continuing its legacy as the leading international boat show on the African continent we’ll be showcasing products and services from premier industry suppliers,” continues Frew.

A new and exciting addition to the 2022 boatica Cape Town line up is the partnership with Universal Concerts to bring a VVIP offering alongside the show. This area will feature high-end alcohol brands with an opportunity for guests to experience a VVIP Red Carpet right on the dock with some of SA’s best entertainment and celebrities under one roof.

“We have very ambitious plans for boatica 2022 and I’m confident that it will once again be the annual highlight on any boating enthusiast’s calendar,” concludes Frew.

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