Interview with Matteo Italo Ratti, CEO of Marina Cala de’ Medici

From the certainty of state rent to territorial marketing. Tourism ports according to Matteo Italo Ratti, CEO of Marina Cala de’ Medici.

The occasion for a pleasant conversation between Matteo Italo Ratti, CEO of Marina Cala de’ Medici and Pressmare, was provided by the recent Order of the Tuscan TAR court, which obliges the Municipality of Rosignano Marittimo (LI) to review state rent that had been raised exponentially following a law in 2007, at the time of the Letta government.

Without going into legal technicalities, please help us to correctly understand this matter which we repeatedly hear about?

In the 1990s the State, realising there was a great lack of infrastructure not only in the tourism port industry, granted state-owned spaces to private individuals interested in making investments, granting the exploitation of the property for 50 years in exchange. Technically, this is called Project financing. In the industrial plan, the state rent to be paid was related to the amount of investment in the infrastructure: the higher the investment and the higher the value of the asset the state gets, the lower the cost of the state rent. Instead, in 2007 the legislator adjusted the rent to higher rates related to the value of the asset that had been developed. And since the law was applied late, the retroactivity we are talking about refers to the date of promulgation of the law, 2007. For example, a port that used to pay 150 thousand Euros a year now has to pay three times as much rent. Since 2009, the disputes of the individual port facilities started at the Regional Administrative Court which, however, has always been considered not to have jurisdiction, referring everything to the Constitutional Court which recently gave its opinion on the constitutionally correct interpretation. The Order of the Tuscan TAR court was the first to incorporate the indication that the Constitutional Court gave 10 years after the law was promulgated; it is hoped that it will generate a judgment that makes case history. Allow me to paraphrase the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong: “A small step for us, a big step for boating”.

Who do you think is to blame for all this?

There are numerous contributing factors; the blame lies with the bureaucracy, ministerial technicians, who did not think about the facets and the diversity on which the law was based. More generally, I am convinced that boating has not only been damaged by the Monti government with the parking tax, but by a persecutory attitude that has always made the costs uncertain, the worst possible scenario for any market, which requires stability. State rent is only one of the problems. Boating needs stability and certainty, which must be provided by the state. If berths do not have a guaranteed or reputable but fluctuating cost, no one buys boats. Infrastructure is fundamental. In this specific case, however, I do not believe that there was bad faith towards ports, this problem also concerns concessions not only at sea, but other infrastructure as well.

What will happen now? Will you be getting some money back?

Every structure has acted as it thought best. There are those who paid what was requested and those who, like us, paid only what was initially agreed. Since it is foreseeable that the counterparty could appeal at the end of the trial, we have set aside the necessary amount in the event of a negative outcome.

But won’t the concessions once expired go to tender? It’s the famous Bolkestein directive, how should entrepreneurs involved in the industry be protected?

Exactly, in my opinion it cannot be applied in the same way, for example, in the Baltic as in Capri. Logically, if the State has delegated a private individual to make an investment in an area, it is necessary to reward those who made the investment. It should have a privileged position, a pre-emption for example, with the obligation to update the infrastructure with new investments without going to tender. The risk is that these investments can be taken over by foreign parties with a purely speculative interest or elimination of competition from Italians, the first in the world, by acquiring concessions from competing shipyards. An increase in foreign capital could mean leaving the best tourism areas or prestige brands ending up in the hands of foreign parties, without any respect for the territory and the needs of those who live there.

What is, or what should, in your opinion, be the roles of the two industrial associations, UCINA and NAUTICA ITALIANA, in relation to the port and its problems? Can they collaborate? How, in your opinion?

Before there was only UCINA as the sole representative. There are now two teams involved and healthy competition. Associative bipolarity has led to greater stimulation and attention paid towards the respective associates, I think this is a good thing.
Collaboration between the two trade associations is a fundamental step, because the themes are the same and so are the solutions. The important thing is to have a constructive and non-oppositional will. I am optimistic, Nautica Italiana now has 100 important and relevant members, and even politicians have realised it, accrediting the association in all discussions.

You have taken over the management of Marina Cala de’ Medici at a time of great difficulty both because of the negative economic situation that has affected our country and because of the simultaneous collapse of the nautical industry. What was your strategy for facing that moment and what results did you achieve?

My professional experience comes from quality and safety, where we operate with a broader perspective than the niche of recreational boating. The first step was to offer more quality services, necessarily going against the trend in prices, increasing them. A decision that paid off in a short time, even though many of our neighbours thought we were mad. Italians are a people of professionals, artisans and entrepreneurs, wealth is more widespread than in other countries, but also more demanding. Therefore a quality service is repaid.
The MCDM was established in 2003, but things were not going according to expectations. I arrived in 2012 and since then we have changed everything, starting from having an in-house external public relations office. The staff was driven to develop their professionalism with refresher courses. Investment in human capital and skills generated a more efficient service. The MCDM is positioned in an international and European market that sees Italy at the centre of the Mediterranean, and our competitors are not the other Italian navies but those abroad, especially Greece, Croatia and Montenegro, so my reasoning is to find an agreed vision with other operators in the industry. This is how my associational commitment on the one hand and the local community on the other must be interpreted.

This is where territorial marketing comes in, in which you are very active. What is your view in this regard?

Closed ports no longer have any possibility of development. The marinas must now be an interface with the territory and interact with it. We have organised almost 100 events this year, from the recent gathering at the Centro Velico Caprera for its 50 year anniversary, concerts and regattas, some of which are based on food and wine and open to everyone in real terms. The MCDM is no longer a port that empties during the summer because the boats go to Sardinia or Corsica. It is no longer a sad winter parking lot, it has now become a summer transit port, an equipped base for all those who want to get to know Tuscany and its archipelago. Among the most appreciated initiatives I would also like to highlight the car sharing service with Birò electric cars, which allow ecological mobility in the territory adjacent to the port.

What development is planned for the structure?

The next step, in which we will not be alone, will be to start selling berths and boats again. I predict that many boat owner owners will want to put berths up for sale because the market has broken down and there is an interest in selling on one side and on the other to buy, because rents will also be less convenient and more expensive with a market that is being re-launched. Let’s return to the certainty of costs, if these are guaranteed the market has a good reason to re-start. The ruling of the Tuscany TAR court is a good start in incorporating this approach.