FLIBS kicks off Wednesday

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The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show opens tomorrow ad runs through Nov. 4. Billing itself as the world’s largest in-water show, the 59th edition of FLIBS will have 3 million square feet of exhibition space, six miles of floating docks and more than 1,500 boats on display across seven locations.

The show, owned by the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, is presented by Informa. Last year, the London-based events producer invested more than $6 million in infrastructure improvements. This year, Informa spent several million dollars on a new plaza entrance, improved walkways across the 30-acre Bahia Mar location and better transportation connections.

“We looked at every facet of the show and decided on the best ways to improve the experience,” Andrew Doole, senior vice president and chief operating officer of U.S. Informa Boat Shows, told Trade Only Today. “That ranged from replacing the wood docks with synthetic piers to hiring a new food provider. We spent a lot of time working out the details, down to the colors of the directional totems that make it easier to navigate the show.”

“Every change adds to a better event for both attendees and exhibitors,” said Phil Purcell, MIASF executive director. “Last year, they worked on the features behind the curtain; now they’ve tweaked the experiences. The idea is to match the audience with the sophistication they’re used to in other venues. We’re doing what other markets have already done.”

Visitors are expected to represent 52 countries, with 54 percent coming from outside Florida. According to a study by Thomas J. Murray and Associates, FLIBS had a $531.5 million economic impact in South Florida in 2015, and $857.3 million statewide.

“Over $100 million per day changes hands during the show,” Purcell said. “The net worth of a thousand of the attendees is $20 million or more. We want to provide the same level of experience that those attendees might get from an exclusive concert or professional sporting event.”

The most obvious change at this year’s show is the new entrance at the Bahia Mar Yachting Center, which is designed like a plaza. Last year, it could take attendees a half-hour to get from the main entrance, through the tents and to the water.

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“New security equipment also lets us do away with bag checks,” Doole said. “We want attendees to be relaxed, energetic and excited in the plaza, rather than standing in line under the sun. First impressions are critical.”

Fort Lauderdale-based EDSA — a firm of urban planners and landscape architects with offices in Orlando, New York, Shanghai and Baltimore — has been working on the changes.

“We spent a lot of time thinking about what people will see,” said Scott LaMont, a principal with EDSA. “We looked at how great concerts create a sense of place with the visuals. We wanted to bring some of that vibe into the boat show.”

The convention center will have more attractions this year, according to Doole. Reef Aquaria Design will have two aquariums at the center’s entrance, and Marine Research Hub will have live-reef tanks.

“The quality of the displays at the convention center has improved in recent years,” Doole said. “That’s gone hand in hand with the quality of the boats. The space is sold out going forward, as manufacturers have replaced dealers as exhibitors. Many builders want to showcase their new models out of the water.”

In the next three years, the convention center is expected to have more exhibit space for larger boats. Doole also noted plans to upgrade other venues. Las Olas Marina is scheduled for a new entrance next year, along with a new parking lot. The site should be able to accommodate larger yachts.

“Pier 66 will also be redeveloped, with the potential to bring in more superyachts,” Doole said. “Plans to upgrade Sails Marina, which will be renamed Pier South, are also in the works. We’re going to see a critical mass of bigger superyachts at those two marinas and the Hilton Marina. They’ll be a magnet for visitors.”

Purcell said the show will be the subject of a one-hour NBC Sports special that will highlight boats, technical innovations and lifestyle amenities. He hopes the special will give FLIBS more exposure than ever.

“It’ll be broadcast to millions, both domestically and internationally,” Purcell said. “That kind of exposure really is a big deal. It demonstrates how the event is coming of age.”

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