Crowds enjoy opening day of Newport show

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NEWPORT, R.I. - Thursday's opening day of the 42nd annual Newport International Boat Show — the first of the fall boat shows and viewed as a bellwether of the industry’s fortunes — drew strong crowds and had more exhibitors than there were at last year’s show.

“We feel we’re up, given the overall activity on our website and the feedback from our exhibitors,” Tom Delotto, division director of the Newport Exhibition Group, the show’s producers, told Trade Only Today this morning. “We’re seeing a lot of activity from exhibitors — positive and enthusiastic — on our Facebook page.”

More than 600 boats ranging from 15 to 90 feet and 750 exhibitors, a total that sold out the exhibition space, greeted the stream of attendees that started early and remained steady throughout the first of what is forecast to be a string of crisp, sunny early fall days stretching past Sunday, the closing day of the show

The annual news conference focused on the addition of the show’s new relationship with the Discover Boating program. Carl Blackwell, chief marketing officer of the National Marine Manufacturers Association and president of Discover Boating, spoke about how mobile devices and social media can be critical components of an industry rebound.

“Mobile devices are now the second most-used medium next to television — a 1,000-percent increase year over year,” Blackwell told a gathering of media and exhibitors.

After showing several of Discover Boating’s videos, which incorporate personal photos provided by boaters that promote “the ‘ing,’ not the thing,” Blackwell noted that these passionate customers are the industry’s best ambassadors for the lifestyle.

“Boating is obviously a very social experience, so it’s only natural we use social media to promote it,” he said.

As part of the new Discover Boating partnership, the show offered for the first time for-fee, on-the-water clinics on boat operation through the Hands-On Training Series. More than 100 people had signed up for the clinics, which can cost upwards of $100.

“That tells us they are vested and serious about boating,” Delotto said after the event. “To us, that’s a home run.”

Newport for New Products, the show’s recognition of the best new boats and boating products, had nearly 40 entries this year, more than in any year since 2008. Included among the debuts are new sailboats from Dufour, JBoats and Bavaria, new powerboats from Hunt, Hinckley, Jeanneau and Protector, and electronics and equipment from Forespar, Imtra and others.

- Rich Armstrong

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