The 53rd annual Barcelona International Boat Show opened Wednesday on the Mediterranean Sea to blue skies and warm weather.
The first U.S. pavilion at the show is set near the gate, where several manufacturers exhibited to explore opportunities in what is an untapped market for many American companies.
"We're here to build brand awareness and partner with a dealer to represent us throughout Spain because currently we have no representation," said Keith Ammons, sales manager for Regulator Marine’s South and Central American markets. He has temporarily taken over the Spanish market.
"We spoke with a couple of qualified buys and had conversations with a couple of potential dealers, so that's a good first day," he said.
The mood at the show is considerably more upbeat than just a year ago, said Jose Luis Fayos, technical and export manager for the National Association of Nautical Companies, or ANEN. The Spanish trade group acts as the National Marine Manufacturers Association does in the United States, lobbying for more favorable legislation for recreational boating.
The group recently was successful in getting legislation passed that makes it significantly easier to earn a recreational boat operator’s license.
"We see that as a good opportunity to expand our recreational boating market," Fayos said.
Boat registrations in Spain have grown 12.8 percent in the first three quarters of this year.
The footprint of the show is 20 percent larger than last year, another positive sign for the market, Fayos said, noting the "nice sampling of American companies" making a presence.
Besides Regulator, Bayliner, Chris-Craft, Malibu, MasterCraft, Nautique and Tracker are among those represented.
"Our companies are telling me they're getting solid leads here on Day One. It's more about quality rather than quantity," NMMA export development director Julie Balzano said.
Glenn Jackman is director of the marine division of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, which helps local businesses, such as Regulator Marine, increase its exports.
He, too, is attending the Barcelona show for the first time and said his first impression is a positive one.
"Being here and seeing it in person, I can tell this has real potential as a successful market," he said, noting that he expects his report on the show will lead to a larger contingent of North Carolina manufacturers in Barcelona next year.
More than 70 new-boat models will be showcased at the show among 650 new and used boats on display. The event continues through Sunday.