Apart from the ubiquitous face masks, to a visitor standing at the heart of the 61st Annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show at the Bahia Mar Yachting Center yesterday, the show looked much the same as it has on opening days in the past.
Under sunny, clear skies, megayachts studded the face dock, and the inner docks were lined with new center consoles, sportfishing yachts, runabouts, performance boats, sport yachts, cruisers, and more. A steady stream of show goers walking the docks and touring the exhibitors’ boats, especially the 20-plus new models that are making their debut at FLIBS.
“I would say our traffic has been a little busier than we anticipated,” Matt VanGrunsven, director of marketing for KCS International, told Trade Only Today. The builder is introducing the new Cruisers 42 GLS at FLIBS. “Since the gates open, we’ve had steady traffic on every boat.”
“I am very happy with the turnout of the show,” said Todd Albrecht, president of Sōlace Boats, which is launching its new 41 CS fishing boat at FLIBS. “[Show manager] Informa did a great job of making this look like a great show.”
It would take a bird’s-eye perspective to reveal the true extent of the differences between last year’s FLIBS and this one, held roughly eight months since the Covid-19 pandemic took center stage in the U.S. With both the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center and Pier Sixty-Six Marina locations under construction, the boat show’s footprint has contracted substantially. Even FLIBS’ main location on the Intracoastal Waterway along Seabreeze Boulevard, which used to extend from the Bahia Mar all the way past the East Las Olas Boulevard Bridge, now only runs as far north as the Hall of Fame Marina.
There also are some empty booths in the show tents — particularly the Superyacht Tent. Travel regulations and an abundance of caution have kept most of the yacht and superyacht builders, designers and other industry professionals headquartered overseas from attending the show.
However, many South American, European and Asian shipyards have representatives, distributors and/or dealers in South Florida, so quite a few of these brands are still on display at FLIBS.
For example, Italian builder Azimut is unveiling its new Magellano 25 Metri at FLIBS with the help of its U.S. staff and dealer MarineMax.
“Nobody came from Italy, but Azimut has a very big team in the U.S.,” MarineMax Chief Revenue officer and executive VP Chuck Cashman told Trade Only Today.
Chinese shipyard CL Yachts, a division of Cheoy Lee Shipyards, Ltd., also has its new CLB 88 motor yacht on display at FLIBS. Shipyard director B.Y. Lo said he felt it was important to support the yachting industry by exhibiting at the show.
“The industry needs to open up,” he said, pointing out that we now have more tools to help prevent the coronavirus’ spread. “We have better contact tracing; we have good habits. If we do it together as a team, we should be just fine.”
Andrew Doole, president of Informa Markets U.S. Boat Shows, also emphasized to the importance of holding a physical FLIBS. “As the largest in-water boat show in the world providing over 8,000 local jobs, we recognize the importance of the boat show to the local and state economy and the marine industry at large,” he said. “We spent months working on a comprehensive plan to hold the show in a safe manner. We look forward to a successful show.”
It was clear on Wednesday that both exhibitors and show goers were taking Informa Markets’ comprehensive AllSecure Covid-19 safety standards for FLIBS seriously. The precautions begin at the entrance, where workers check for masks and scan visitors for fever using thermal screens.
Most exhibitor displays are laid out to allow six-foot spacing for unrelated groups of customers, and QR codes have replaced physical catalogs in many booths. Some exhibitors, like gyrostabilizer manufacturer Quick S.p.A. are even handing out business cards in sealed plastic bags.
Some big exhibitors also have reduced the number of workers at their displays. “We anticipated that attendance will be down fifty percent, so we brought [a smaller] team. We want the team and customers to be safe,” Cashman said.
He added that MarineMax had required everyone working the boat show to take Covid-19 tests and sign a “thoughtful document” stating they would comply to safety regulations. The dealer also is limiting boat tours to one party at a time, although, “Making customers wait is a challenge,” he admitted.
Cashman predicts that customers who are willing to attend FLIBS this year amid the Covid-19 restrictions will be eager to buy. “This is more of a buying experience,” he said. “At the end of the show, I think we will all walk out and say we sold a lot of boats.”