Organizers seeing strong economic indicators are hoping for a blockbuster Miami International Boat Show, scheduled Feb. 15-19 at Virginia Key’s Miami Marine Stadium Park and Basin.
“Today’s economic indicators are favorable to the recreational boating market, with GDP growing at 3-plus percent the past two quarters, strong consumer confidence, a healthy housing market, rising disposable income and consumer spending, and interest rates still at historically low levels,” says Thom Dammrich, president of show owner and organizer National Marine Manufacturers Association. “With a 25 percent gain in the stock market last year, we expect the wealth effect to have a big impact on boat sales in 2018, including at the Miami International Boat Show. Tax reform will put more money in most people’s pockets, creating more disposable income.”
The event — now in its 77th year and its third at the Virginia Key venue — sets the industry tone for the year, particularly in the saltwater market, says Dale Barnes, division manager of marketing for Yamaha Marine Group.
“We expect the 2018 Miami International Boat Show to be a great success,” Barnes says. “Right now we are seeing the result of several years of pent-up demand for boats, outboards and marine products. The positive economy and improved consumer confidence are good indicators of a great boat show season for the marine industry.”
What’s new for 2018
The show will have more than 25 percent more boats in the water, with 700 boats at floating docks compared with 550 last year. An additional 700 boats will be on land.
Strictly Sail, formerly at Bayside, is moving to Virginia Key, adding sailboats to the power offerings.
“There were a lot of boating enthusiasts that weren’t both exposed to sail and power, and now we will have so many people be able to shop and compare, and really be exposed to both sail and power elements — these customers will mingle together,” says show president Larry Berryman. “We’re hoping exhibitors see a whole new level of opportunities that they didn’t see before because they weren’t together in one location.”
The temporary marina the NMMA is building for this year’s event, with 600 piles and about 4 miles of dock, covers an area equal to about 24 football fields. The show also occupies a million square feet of land space, which includes 600,000 square feet of air-conditioned tents — and this year the tent A/C units will provide almost triple the output from last year’s, when exhibitors complained about the heat.
A new VIP experience will include a dedicated space in Tent A, Berryman says. Attendees who buy VIP passes online for $125 get complimentary food and beverages, access to the air-conditioned tent and a deck that overlooks the boats.
A regular show ticket costs $25, but that is rolled into the VIP ticket if purchased in advance online. Those who purchase VIP passes at the show instead of online will pay $125 on top of the regular $25 entry fee.
The show is also “elevating educational offerings this year,” Berryman says. There will be two education tents, with one dedicated to education, seminars and instruction. Some of that will be focused on sailing education, which has always been part of Strictly Sail. The sail portion of the tent is called Sailor’s Cove and has its own bar.
Also new this year is food and beer on the docks, plus more seating in the food courts at the show’s center, as well as on the east end. The No. 1 complaint last year was too few places to sit, Dammrich says.
The NMMA is again working with Great Performances to bring in food trucks and local restaurants. Offerings will include Latin Café 2000, The Knife Restaurant, Moët & Chandon, Sushi Maki, Killer Melts, Moty’s Grill, Mulberry 1965, King of Racks BBQ, HipPops, B.C. Tacos, Mr. Bing, Relentless Roasters and Ocean Breeze.
New for the 2018 show is Boater Pass, Dammrich says. The program was piloted at the Progressive Tampa Boat Show and helps to “gamify” a show for the 100,000 expected visitors while maximizing lead generation for exhibitors.
“The Boater Pass program allows the attendee to gather information they’re interested in without having to carry it all around in a bag — it’s all available in a microsite,” Dammrich says. “And it gives the exhibitor lead information that’s highly enriched.”
Attendees who register wear a Boater Pass around their neck with a unique QR code that exhibitors can scan if they want to exchange information. Attendees also can scan products with their phones using an app, and information from products gets sent to the microsite.
When exhibitors scan an attendee’s code, they can see that person’s boating interests, budget and other information, Dammrich says: “It can be a real aid to giving the salesperson a lot of information about the person they’re talking to, and it captures the lead all with one scan.”
To motivate showgoers to use Boater Pass, they are entered into drawings for prizes as they scan things. When they join, a possible prize is a Yamaha personal watercraft. Daily prizes are given every hour, too.
Water taxi service has been consolidated once again, now dropping off and picking up attendees at only two locations: Bayfront Park and American Airlines Arena, where more than 85 percent of water-taxi users originate.
Water taxis dropping passengers off at hotels seemed to be popular among exhibitors late each day, as some had rooms at the hotels or attended events there. However, Dammrich says, many found alternative routes to the show because the water-taxi service did not start until 9 a.m., an hour before the show opens, putting passengers at the entrance around 9:30.
“Exhibitors like to get to the show earlier than that, so much fewer were taking the water taxis,” Dammrich says.
Complimentary shuttle buses, which also start at 9 a.m., will run to and from parking hubs in downtown Miami at Marlins Park and American Airlines Arena. Shuttle-bus and water-taxi service concludes at 7 p.m., an hour after the show closes.
A shuttle will run between the Miami International Boat Show and the Miami Yacht Show on Collins Avenue, a separately owned and operated show that runs concurrently with the NMMA show.
The two Miami shows
The Miami Yacht Show on Collins Avenue, formerly known as Yachts Miami Beach, will be under new ownership this year with London-based Informa (see the Miami Yacht Show story). The NMMA is working with Informa to promote both shows and share the costs of shuttles between the two; shuttle drivers will tell passengers that they need separate show tickets.
“It can be very confusing sometimes, and many manufacturers have boats at both shows,” Berryman says. “We’re trying to do the best we can to educate everyone about what’s where.”
For exhibitors in both locations, the bus ride can be time-consuming, Berryman says, so exhibitor badges will be honored at both shows, eliminating the need for a second badge. The two shows are also offering a “convenience ticket” for visitors to attend both shows.
“People can purchase those online; they won’t be at the box office,” Berryman says. “It’s a new example of the two management companies working together. People had never had to do that before because they never needed a ticket for the yacht show, so it created more confusion. We’re trying to mitigate that confusion. Even exhibitors are sometimes confused about which show they’re coming to.”
The Miami International Boat Show tends to showcase boats in the 90-foot-and-below range. “Once we get to 100 feet and up, most of that inventory you’ll find on Collins Avenue,” Berryman says. “Then in the 40- to 80-foot range, certainly there’s a dynamic mix here at the Miami Marine Stadium, as well as on Collins Avenue. The big difference between Collins and what you’ll find here is, at the NMMA show, everything is brand-new.”
Year three means fewer glitches
The Miami International Boat Show moved from the Miami Convention Center when that building underwent construction, creating a need to construct an entire show from scratch with only a year to plan.
“I do not remember year one,” Berryman says. “Getting the first show open on day one was like planting a flag on the moon. The second year, it was a little smoother. Going into year three, I actually sleep a little bit. That’s the reality we were in the first year. We were doing so much for the first time in a brand-new site that hadn’t been touched in 20 years.”
That work included paving, constructing the tents and building a temporary 420-slip marina.
“Everything was temporary,” Berryman says. “Everything had to go in new and then get taken back down. We still do that now, but we have a little bit of history to go back on. You’re building an entire city on this property, inclusive of light switches and everything else from the ground up.
“This year, we’re building a 700-slip temporary marina,” he adds. “There is not a single pile, dock or gangway that’s permanent. It’s mind-boggling.”
Piers 1 and 2 are primarily occupied by engine manufacturers that have OEM partners with sea-trial boats on hand, giving attendees a chance to test the vessels, Berryman says. All boats on the marina’s periphery can conduct sea trials, and this year because of dock extensions, more than 200 boats will be positioned to do so.
“That’s created a wonderful opportunity to not only show someone the product, but let them operate it,” Berryman says. “The exhibitors on the periphery of the marina have the ability to untie and go for sea trials, and there are some exhibitors who are locked in the perimeter that have a sea-trial boat on the outside of the grid.”
For example, Scout Boats is locked in, but offered a 380 LXF for sea trials on the Mercury portion of the docks at the 2017 show. The dynamic lets consumers start at the Mercury booth inside the tent, walk outside a few hundred yards and get on a boat to test outboard engines while the product is top of mind, says Mercury spokesman Lee Gordon.
“A lot of shows are great for the consumer to walk the show and pick up literature, but they are missing the on-water experience,” Gordon says. “Having the on-water experience just steps away from the trade show is not only convenient, but it allows us to see the consumer all the way through their boat-show experience and give them the personal touch that isn’t always available.”
Yamaha provides booth experience and in-water experiences in several locations and via its Helm Master tour.
“The Virginia Key location of the Miami show lends itself well to learning about our products from experts inside the exhibit hall, then immediately experiencing the product firsthand on the docks,” Barnes says. “This year, we will have over 20 Yamaha-powered boats available for testing and sea trials on the docks. In addition, many of our boatbuilder partners will have Yamaha-powered products available to test within their slips on the docks.”
Companies such as Sabre Yachts and Back Cove use the venue for another reason, says Bentley Collins, sales and marketing vice president for the Maine brands.
“Miami is huge in terms of our dealer network because everyone gets together there,” Collins says. “We always love Miami.”
Mercury, one of many companies making a big push with video, says it had always done nuts-and-bolts videos, but was able to add the storytelling and videos focused on people at the Miami show. Mercury uses the venue to get consumer testimonials, tap celebrity fans such as Chicago Bears linebacker Willie Young and photograph customers taking sea trials, Gordon says. Mercury’s OEM partners are represented at the show, so recording interviews with boatbuilders has been effective for cross-marketing.
“Just a few years ago we were trying different shots, setting up Go-Pros [and] flying drones,” Gordon says. “Today that’s table stakes. Our goal every year is to not just outdo ourselves from the year before, but everything we do is intended to bring Miami to the world. More than 100,000 consumers go to the Miami boat show, but millions more can’t make it, so it’s our job to bring Miami to the world through video, Facebook Live, Web streaming — any opportunity to bring the excitement of the Miami International Boat Show around the globe is one of our main objectives.
“We’ve met some incredible people along the way,” Gordon adds. “One woman was a reporter for The New York Times and got in an accident covering the Vietnam War. She’s been in a wheelchair 40 years and doesn’t have mobility, but she’s able to use the joystick. We went out on the water with her and recorded that. It just really opened our eyes.”
Viking Yachts showcases some of its new, smaller models at the Miami International Boat Show, says Viking communications director Chris Landry.
“It’s a good place to bring more boaters into the Viking family, which we’re really trying to do with the Viking 37 Billfish and the 44,” Landry says. “We try to attract those buyers who may have had bigger center consoles, but want a little more comfort and protection from weather. We also are looking to attract people who are downsizing or who maybe want to get into some fishing.”
Back Cove will bring 32-, 37- and 41-foot boats, and Sabre Yachts will bring 42-, 45- and 48-foot boats, Collins says.
“We do not have anything brand-new and sparkly,” Collins says. “We had a big year with new boats last year, the Back Cove 32 and the Sabre 45, and we have new projects underway. We’re very strong believers in new-product development and keeping everything fresh, but right now our facilities are full to overflowing with what we have in the ranges. There was no immediate need for us to develop new product because it would just be displacing current product.”
Both brands are going into Miami with a backlog of orders and plenty of confidence, Collins says.
“Florida has been a significant part of our business for years — somewhere in the range of 20 to 25 percent of our business gets done in Florida,” Collins says. “We love Miami. We’re looking forward to it.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue.