It’s known as the boat show where people come to buy — and as such, the 57th Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show is stepping up its sophistication factor this year to accommodate the droves of people who come not just to browse, but also to close on a new boat.
The show, running Nov. 3-7 at seven locations in Fort Lauderdale, is continuing its expansion geographically, as well as its evolution into a premier international boating and yachting event, with some of the largest yachts ever displayed, says Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III, president of show producer Show Management.
The show also will boast a new entryway welded by an up-and-coming local artist, a sculpted metal archway featuring fish and boats and other marine themes. “I wanted an entrance that was meaningful to the show,” says Brett Keating, vice president of consumer marketing for Show Management. “It’s the first thing you see when you come to the boat show, and it should be iconic. It’s got to get you kind of pumped. We wanted that first impression to really resonate. We thought, hey, what could be better than to have an artist with a passion for the marine world who can do something great, and someone young and up and coming? So we had a contest. The response was great, and the results are going to speak for themselves.”
Excitement and momentum are quickly building for this year’s Fort Lauderdale show as the marine industry continues to rebound, having exceeded sales volume in dollars (though not in units) from its prerecession peak.
“Last year was an amazing show,” Zimbalist says, pointing to an economic impact report conducted by the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, which owns the show. The report notes that in 2015 the show generated an $857 million impact, with $508 million of it coming from direct sales at the show. “It’s just staggering,” Zimbalist says.
“So I guess the issue is, has anything happened to slow that down? I certainly don’t see it. If we look at any tea leaves, early sales of tickets, inquiries and hotel rooms, we’re running well ahead of last year,” Zimbalist said in late August. “Percentages don’t mean anything this early on. But if they’re dropping off, it means people are being cautious. But they’re not; they’re increasing. The pace of orders is well ahead of last year. Exhibitor enthusiasm is terrific. People are in a boat-buying mood. What better place to scratch that itch than at the Fort Lauderdale boat show?”
“It’s the yachting capital of the world,” agrees MIASF executive director Phil Purcell. “There are so many amazing shows, but this show is truly unique — there are 35 countries represented, over 100,000 attendees, with 50,000 of them coming from outside the country. The show had $508 million of direct sales last year — with $100 million in sales per day. That’s a big number. The economic impact to the state is incredible. Last year’s Super Bowl had a $719 million impact. Ours was $857 million. I think the industry feels really good, and very positive.”
Global appeal, but truly American
The event has been stepping up its game to position itself in the global boat show arena among other internationally recognized shows, says Bentley Collins, sales and marketing vice president for Sabre and Back Cove yachts. “We’re going back there with enthusiasm. It’s a good show, with lots of people from overseas. We have two new boats, and we’re always happy to be there and we’re keen to do our thing.”
Keating has done “a great job improving the show’s image, creating more public parking and access to the show,” Collins says. “I think they’re taking FLIBS from being another American boat show to a show that is truly international and feels like one of the high-end European shows. Before, it might have lacked that sort of showmanship, but now it’s there when you go to Fort Lauderdale.”
“FLIBS is my favorite show, and it’s my favorite because people come to buy,” says Rob Parmentier, president and CEO of Carver and Marquis Yachts. “They’re really given a chance to see everything from all over the world. It’s a great place, and a great time of year — it’s a selling show. It’s also a good chance to see all my old compadres and peers and competitors to see what they’ve got that’s new. It’s the epitome of American boating. Yet it’s got international flavor and presence, too — it’s a world-class show. Everybody’s right there, so it’s easy for people to shop. From a retail perspective, it’s great to see and compare all the brands right next to each other. It’s just a fantastic show. It’s always had a soft spot in my heart.”
A new caterer will offer global fare such as sushi, a Latin bar, ceviche and local cuisine, such as a “taste of Chicago,” in a completely revised food court that will be in a tented garden area, Zimbalist says.
The U.S. Superyacht Association will have for the first time a new American Pavilion — the rebranded Yacht Builders Tent. The yacht-specific exhibit space will house 40 “America-focused companies serving the superyacht industry, such as shipyards and yacht transport companies,” says USSA president Kitty McGowan.
The new pavilion layout will include seminars on topics such as charter and travel in the United States. Coast Guard representatives will be available to answer questions regarding cruising U.S. waters. New this year for USSA members, the Aft Deck VIP Lounge will offer refreshments and food each day. “Ultimately our role is to promote that industry in the United States, so a lot of these companies are service providers to the superyacht industry,” McGowan says. “We are really going to focus on the United States as a destination.”
New and growing attractions
Stepping up the sophistication factor, the fireworks display that has traditionally been launched from the top of the Bahia Mar hotel will not take place. Instead a 3D architectural type of video will take place three times a night, on each night of the show, on the side of the Bahia Mar, Keating says.
“We’re partnering with this company called PaintScaping,” says Keating. “They’re going to produce this video on the back of the Bahia Mar. They can make buildings crumble, make it appear as if boats are coming through it. We’re really looking forward to that. We expect it to go viral. We expect TV coverage and videos to get distributed on social media. This should be one of the big spectacular events for the show.”
The show will also have its first boat raffle — a 17-foot Twin Vee powercat that will be on display inside the convention center with a pink wrap for breast cancer awareness, Keating says. “All the money will be donated to breast cancer awareness and the Children’s Diagnostic and Treatment Center of Fort Lauderdale,” she says.
Last year was the first time the show had a power catamaran section at Pier 66, and it is growing this year. The Sailfish Pavilion will be tented and air-conditioned this year, a feature that has received “rave reviews” from exhibitors who thought the tent was too warm last year, Zimbalist says.
Organizers will continue to emphasize the social media aspect of the show, which has seen growing momentum, Keating says. “Our social media has exploded. With our video crew we have onsite at the show, they’re so quick about taking video and immediately getting it up, and it’s high-quality footage. People love it,” Keating says. “Having all that posted to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — that really works. We’re putting more focus and attention on that.”
MarineMax CEO Bill McGill will deliver a keynote speech at the annual press conference moderated by Soundings Trade Only editor-in-chief Bill Sisson. “He’s got great perspective and can offer his view of trends he sees, geographically, demographically and around the world,” Zimbalist says.
The Marine Job Fair, launched last year by the MIASF, drew 30 to 40 companies in 2015, and is on track to have even more this year, Purcell says. About 300 job seekers also showed up, and several landed positions. “Some companies hired; some didn’t get the candidates they were looking for,” Purcell says. “But the point is, we engaged 300 people and 30-plus companies. We’re working more closely with schools and employment agencies, and it should be a really nice event.” It will take place on the second floor of the convention center in a room that overlooks the show.
The biggest to date
This will be the largest Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in terms of the number of boats and the sizes of large boats, Keating says. Heesen will bring Galactica Supernova, a 240-foot superyacht that cruises at 30 knots, Zimbalist says. Abeking & Rasumusssen will display Cloudbreak, another superyacht measuring nearly 240 feet. The commercial division of Dutch builder Amels will bring a new support vessel measuring nearly 190 feet, a “shadow yacht” designed to accompany an even bigger superyacht and carry all of the toys and other accessories.
“That will be an interesting addition,” Zimbalist says. “Those yachts will be down by the [SuperYacht Builders Association] area, which is moving toward the Hall of Fame” at the north end of the show, directly across from the VIP lounge. “All those displays will be right across from the lounge, so it’s going to be pretty powerful at that end of the show,” Keating adds.
The largest tent at the center of the show’s Bahia Mar location, formerly known as the Yachting Tent, has been renamed the Superyacht Pavilion and redesigned with newly reconfigured aisles and a central, full-service bar serving morning coffee and drinks and snacks throughout the day. Other exhibit tents at Bahia Mar also have been renamed and include the Marine Equipment Tent, Boating Accessories Tent, Engine Tent and Electronics Tent.
Despite the increase in large yachts, Zimbalist says the fastest-growing segment of the show is the under-60-foot center console outboard segment. “The new technology is great, and I think that’s what’s generating sales. The average age of the fleet had been getting older every year, and part of that was due to uncertainty about the economy, but also because until recently there weren’t such great new features that persuaded you to trade in your boat,” Zimbalist says. “Now these boats have got so many new features and great designs, people say, ‘Hey, I’ve got to take the leap. I’m not getting any younger.’ So you are seeing beautiful boats of all sizes, beautifully designed and equipped, and the price points are not outrageous.”
Though the trend is shifting to somewhat smaller boats, the emphasis on luxury and quality remains, he says. “I think that whole segment of the market, in which I am one, doesn’t want to spend a lot of nights on the boat — they want to spend a lot of days on the boat. But if they want to spend a night, they can do that. A lot of boats are hitting that segment. They use the space beautifully, with open spaces and space to eat, drink, converse and enjoy bringing friends and family out.”
The trend also reflects a desire for owners to operate their own boats without a crew on board, Zimbalist says. “I know my wife, Paula, who isn’t the most mechanically inclined, she’s been going through the Coast Guard courses and going out with a captain, and she loves taking girlfriends out to lunch or sightseeing. I think that’s another thing driving that growth. You don’t need a captain. You can enjoy operating these boats yourself.”
A revamped VIP experience
Last year’s show featured a new VIP offering, but Keating thought the single-price option was too high and couldn’t be tailored in a way she thought guests wanted. “I took the VIP into my own hands,” she says. “It went from $400 per person, per day, to $100, so it’s much more accessible.”
That price includes access to the VIP Lounge, but attendees can bundle that with valet parking, show tickets or other perks if they want. Last year, the ticket included everything. “A lot of people come to the show because they already have a complimentary ticket, so by just providing lounge access, it’s priced right,” Keating says.
Catering for the VIP Lounge will be provided by Palettes, the group that also operates Fort Lauderdale on-water restaurant Shooters. “They really understand this clientele,” Keating says. “The menu is fantastic; it’s going to be much more upscale.” Food will be served all day long — breakfast, lunch and tapas in the evening.
Keating has tapped “instrumental” partners for the lounge; each has its own dedicated area with sofa, chairs and coffee tables, giving them an area to entertain guests and potential clients. Those partners include Luxury Law Group, returning Fort Lauderdale-based partner National Jets, and Bank of America. Anyone can buy a ticket to gain access to the lounge, the food and its popular concierge service.
Pulling out the stops
Sea Ray is known for having a show-stopping display, in part because of the sheer number of boats. This year the company will bring 15 boats to display in the water, says vice president and general manager Scott Ward. “We’re taking a two-phased approach to updating our display,” Ward says. “We’re changing some exterior aesthetics, and next year we will be changing the interior aspects of it. We’re moving toward a very social, customer-friendly, warm type of atmosphere. We are bringing in more robust seating areas and more flooring treatments to create multiple social zones.”
Sea Ray, like most boat manufacturers, will bring its newest models to showcase.
“We’re going to have quite a showing, with the L class 650 Express and 650 Fly,” Ward says. “We’ll have the same in 590, the Express and the Fly, and it will be the worldwide debut of the L550 Fly, which we’re extremely excited about. That boat’s being built as we speak. We will also have our popular 510 Sundancer and Fly, as well as the 400 Sundancer and 400 Fly. In addition to the L550’s worldwide debut we will introduce the new 460 Fly alongside the 460 Sundancer. The 460s are wonderfully designed with the galley aft, multiple social zones, larger interior volumes and a full-beam master stateroom.”
The company also will display the new Sundancer 350 Coupe, as well as the SLX 350 outboard, the SLX 310 outboard and the SDX 290 outboard. “These models will be in the water at the same display as the large boats,” Ward says. “It is exciting that the two SLX models and the SDX model will be shown with outboard power. We’re building more boats with outboard power than we ever did in the past, and these new models serve the market extremely well.”
“We’re really fortunate to have a model line that’s so fresh, and we’re seeing the results of that in sales activity levels and market share results,” Ward adds. “Our design, portfolio and engineering teams put the time into the research and development to get it right. And I have to give it to the manufacturing team, as well.”
Fort Lauderdale is a great show because “it’s at the right time of year,” says Ward. “The weather up north is changing, the snowbirds are heading south and people are thinking about how they will choose to boat in the upcoming season.”
The fact that some of the newer models have been tough to visit and explore because a limited number are available also helps sell boats. “If they’re buying at the show, we can likely get that built by May or June, when they start boating again at their home port. Historically, Fort Lauderdale has been a very good sales show. In terms of volume, we see more activity there” than at other shows.
Marquis will display its new 720 Fly, and sister company Carver will bring a convertible C40 Command Bridge, a C52 Command Bridge, a C52 Coupe, a C37 Coupe and potentially a C43. “We’ve got to have the Coupes there because they’re really great sellers,” Parmentier says. “We’ve sold six 37s in the last six months. It’s been a really great boat for us.”
It will be Sabre’s first time bringing a Flybridge, with the 48 Fly, Collins says. “We launched the Fly layout last April. The dealers love them, and customers love them. They have an identical layout to the existing Sabre 48 Salon Express, but with a flybridge on them. Those have been popular among younger people who aren’t intimidated by the ladders. That’s a significant change, and something that’s new for us.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue.