Attendance at the 32nd annual Palm Beach International Boat Show was up 14 percent, capping a winter boat show season that most exhibitors agreed was booming.
“The show was really great,” says Brett Keating, vice president of consumer marketing for show producer Show Management. “Overall attendance was up significantly.”
Shows in general have been successful this year because the economy is doing well, Keating says. “When the economy does well, shows do well.”
Keating also credits show enhancement and the industry’s passion for innovation. “It’s all about reinventing yourself, delivering more content and creating a more engaging experience,” he says. “And it’s good to keep seeing a lot of new boats and all that innovation. That really helps spark demand.”
Size was selling
The March 23-26 show seemed to reflect one recent industry trend — an increasing appetite for larger boats.
“This really is a big-boat show,” says Chuck Cashman, chief revenue officer for MarineMax. “Our entry-level boat that we brought was really $150,000. This is the show for bigger boats.”
“Shows are doing generally very well,” Cashman adds. “The trend for dollars being up is across the board. Unit growth is very important to us. When I look at boat shows being up, I look by units. Generally the dollars take care of themselves, but it’s also something we track. You could miss a very important segment if you don’t factor in dollars. We’re very happy with the dollars we sold. It was close to a historical high for us.”
Because the company elected to leave smaller boats out of its Palm Beach display, its unit sales were down, but “dollars were way up,” Cashman says. “Really, everybody [at MarineMax] left the show feeling pretty good about our brands.”
This year’s display of boats was the largest in the show’s history. The total number of boats in the water increased by 6 percent from 2016, with the most dramatic growth seen in the 80- to 100-foot category — an increase of 17 percent.
“Year over year this show continues to grow in exhibitor participation and guest attendance, which speaks to both the strength of the boating industry and the unique global appeal of Palm Beach as its location,” says Andrew Doole, Show Management’s senior vice president and chief operating officer.
“We saw increased traffic and positive activity between brokers and clients,” says Mike Busacca, chief operating officer of Fraser Yachts. “Overall the show atmosphere was optimistic and was a good showcase for us heading into the summer season.”
Also true to the overall market, the Palm Beach show continues to grow its roster of boatbuilders from overseas, many of whom are turning their attention to the bustling U.S. market. This year’s lineup included Amels, Feadship, Heesen, Moonen and Palumbo in a new Superyacht Villas section at the center of the show.
“Palm Beach was a great experience,” says Sara Gioanola, public relations manager for Heesen Yachts. “We really appreciated the quality of the visitors, as well as the international press attendance. We believe this show is a fantastic display opportunity.”
In addition to the large selection of boats and exhibits, the show offered engaging educational activities, including free youth fishing clinics by Hook The Future, IGFA School of Sportfishing seminars, long-range cruising clinics and on-the-water boat-handling classes.
“This year was better than ever before, with huge, happy crowds enjoying the show and making memories,” says Don Dingman, founder of Hook The Future. “There were lots of future fishermen with their families who turned out for the clinics. It was great to see so many new families eager to learn the basics about fishing, as well as kids who have attended our clinics in the past.”
The first Informa show
This was the first boat show that Show Management has produced since it was acquired by London-based Informa, a company that produces 200 events annually, including the Monaco Yacht Show.
“I know overall Informa was really happy with the results of Palm Beach,” Keating says. “They spent a lot of time talking with exhibitors and attendees to get a handle on everyone’s opinion and learn what’s most important to improve in future boat shows.”
Show Management executives have been in deep strategy meetings with Informa executives since the show ended to determine how things will evolve moving forward.
“From my area, I’m going to focus on attendance in terms of quality buyers, and they’re going to give me some really great metric tools to track that,” Keating says. “I’m thrilled with that opportunity. We’re going to have a much bigger focus around the consumer experience, and I’m looking forward to that.”
The company is trying to leverage synergies, given the many shows it produces, to enhance the consumer experience, as well, Keating says. “This is what they do. They’re one of the largest show producers in the world, so they get it. They’re diving through every inch of what we do with a fine-tooth comb. They have some good systems, processes and tools that are extremely advanced that we can just jump in and start using. That’s going to help.”
Cashman says he got to spend time with Informa CEO Stephen Carter at the show and gets the sense that the company is “committed to enhancing the experience from the consumer’s point of view. There’s a lot of synergies he can bring into our boat shows that enhance the customer experience without driving prices through the roof.”
However, he says the team at Show Management has an abundance of talent and experience. “[They] are a specialized group with a good skill set,” Cashman says. “I don’t think they’re easily replaced. But Informa can take what they know from that side of the show experience and provide that to people who come to Miami and Palm Beach to buy a yacht.”
This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue.