Houston show reports strong sales and attendance

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The 63rd Houston International Boat, Sport and Travel Show reported an 18 percent boost in attendance from last year and strong sales — some of which came from buyers replacing boats lost or damaged in Hurricane Harvey.

“People were out buying,” Jonathan Whitmire, of Texas Marine, told Trade Only Today. “I think we’re going to have a good year economy-wise. We actually wound up coming within one boat of our all-time record, so I would consider it a very good success.”

Texas Marine saw about a 10 percent increase as a result of Hurricane Harvey, Whitmire said — less than the 20 to 30 percent boost he expected.

“I don’t think I had a full grasp on actually how many people still don’t have their houses fixed or insurance money still from the boat,” Whitmire said. “I think we have a lot more business ahead. We’ve still got employees in our Beaumont store that lost everything and still don’t have houses left. We’ve got one still living in his garage. Texans, we recover pretty well. This ain’t our first rodeo, and what we saw after some of the previous hurricanes — people go six, eight months, work their booties off to get things back together, and then they reward themselves for all that hard work. I think around summertime we’ll see that. I expect to have a great summer.”

Show manager Ken Lovell agreed that much of that traffic would come during the summer show in June. “I think the feeling is that the Harvey buyers will be stronger in June,” Lovell told Trade Only.

Lovell was surprised to see sales of flat-bottom aluminum boats — the kinds boaters used to rescue people trapped in Harvey’s floodwaters — “were good, but weren’t exceptional.” But Lovell also recently heard that 18,000 in Houston are still displaced as a result of Harvey.

Ski boats, center consoles and boats with dual and triple outboards were the biggest sellers, based on dealer feedback, Lovell said.

Many boats used for rescues also fared well, Lovell said, other than some engine or propeller damage.

Organizers said the show did not have to shut its doors for a weekend day this year for the first time in four years; in previous years it had to suspend operations for a day because of a Houston Texans NFL playoff game at NRG Stadium.

Without a game this year, the show resumed a 10-day schedule.

“That is the reason we’re still hanging on to a 10-day show,” Lovell said. “We can lose one of the weekend days to a football playoff … and it’s devastating.”

The show, which ran from Jan. 5-14, fills the entire 700,000 square feet of NRG Center.

“It was an excellent show,” Lovell said. “I was pleasantly surprised at the attendance. We were slightly over 81,000 for the 10 days. The opening Saturday was extremely strong.”

“To be honest, I was concerned personally about the show, and I was pleasantly surprised,” Lovell said. “I was afraid people with insurance money coming in would spend it on homes instead of boats. But evidently, there was a number of Harvey sales. Consumer confidence is strong. That’s a good thing.”


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