The Paris Boat Show opened Dec. 7 to deserted aisles, dealers and salespeople discussing among themselves, and nearly empty order books.
To describe the French social climate as turbulent is perhaps an understatement. A strike paralyzes most of the country, with no trains, cancelled flights, no public transportation in Paris and hundreds of miles of traffic jams.
It appears that many potential showgoers decided to stay home, rather than risk getting stranded somewhere on their way to or from the show. Exhibitors and other marine industry professionals have had to walk or ride bicycles to Porte de Versailles, where the show is held.
Exhibitors, of course, were pleased about the motivated visitors who did make their way to the show, regardless of the unrest. “We were very afraid last week, so we had to see,” said Fabrice Lacoume, European manager for Yamaha Marine. “Some very motivated visitors this weekend made us happy.”
French builder Jeanneau said it had a very good first weekend at the show, with higher sales figures than last year, but there’s a caveat. “Most of the sales we finalized this first weekend have been prepared for several months,” said sales director Samuel Dubois.
The Paris show is a must for Jeanneau, which said it completes nearly 25 percent of its French sales during the event. The show also is important to Beneteau’s bottom line.
“The Paris Boat Show normally represents more than 30 percent of our annual turnover for France,” said Beneteau general manager Luca Brancaleon. “Last year, there had been violent demonstrations, but the impact on the show was quite small. This year we are more worried because even highly motivated customers are cancelling their visits.”
Basile Camus, Sea Ray’s sales manager for France, Great Britain and the Mediterranean, believes organizers bear some responsibility for the situation at the show. “There are problems almost every year, and we know that December is always the time of the strikes,” Camus said. “It might be interesting to think of other solutions, such as moving the show forward to November.”
To make up for lost sales, Sea Ray is offering its most motivated customers airfare to the Düsseldorf Boat Show in Germany in January.
Marianna Puuperä, importer of the Finnish brand Terhi for France, said it would be better if the show were held every two years. “It is very expensive, with always more intermediaries, and it has lost its status as an international show,” she said. “It is now a national event.”
Guillaume Vuillardot, manager of Suzuki Marine France, agrees. “The show remains essential for the French market,” he says. “But in view of these exceptional circumstances each year, the event clearly needs to reinvent itself.”
Frustrated by the lack of traffic, some exhibitors packed up their displays before the show closes this weekend.
Although the show has some hurdles to clear, French and European marine-sales figures are encouraging, with a 4 percent increase this year. “The purchasing power is increasing, and we expect 2020 should be stable or very slightly higher,” Vuillardot said.
Yamaha reported a 6 percent increase in sales, but is cautiously forecasting a rise in sales volume of just 1.4 percent in Europe next year. French RIB manufacturer Zodiac, which generates 70 percent of its sales in Europe, also recorded a 5 percent increase in France in 2019.
“We still have potential, even if we have to adapt to the situations in each European country,” said François Renault, Zodiac’s export manager.
The strikes and civil unrest are not expected to subside until mid-December, which doesn’t bode well for the Paris show, which continues through Sunday, Dec. 15.