“Bustling” is often the word to describe the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, particularly as it hits full stride on Thursday.
However, much like everything else in 2020, this time around the show feels just a bit different.
Indeed, the docks were quite empty by normal standards — both with showgoers and industry insiders alike. A handful of notable stalwarts decided to skip this show altogether, including builders, like Ferretti Group, Horizon and Hatteras, plus a large contingent of superyacht buulders.
To borrow an axiom from a different industry: the show must go on. And for the brave few who decided to treat the show like any other, there are dividends to be had.
According to Panu Virtanen, vice president of CL Yachts, this Covid-inflected boat show is an ironic success. “We are busier than expected,” he told Trade Only Today. “And we are seeing lots of potential owners. We were very happy to see that right after opening we were busy. And we have been getting positive feedback which is wonderful to see. And this 88 gets lots of media attention, including national TV, so it’s been a quite exciting couple of days.”
CL Yachts is debuting its CLB88, a motoryacht priced around $7 million that is capitalizing on the smaller and more qualified crowds. Virtanen suspects that the added barrier of entry to the show has left the builders with a more serious-minded, owner-centric crowd.
He did note that the customer experience is a bit different. “There are a lot of safety measures,” he said. “No evening event activities are allowed. We are trying to follow the Informa guidelines, which say not to hand out marketing materials, so we do all stuff like that through emails. It’s changed the customer interaction a little bit. We have to keep the distance more than before. Speak louder I guess!”
That no-quit spirit was seconded by Prestige’s director of regional sales Thibaud Maudet.
“We didn’t know what to expect before the show because of the environment,” he said, “but we had a feeling that people were, after 6 months of lockdown…wanted to participate in an event. People really want to enjoy boating. We’ve found that traveling is the main competitor of boating and now people can’t travel, so why not go boating?”
Maudet’s company is debuting the X70, which is a hybrid-type yacht designed to look like an expedition vessel (in no small part thanks to a reverse-raked, workboat-like windshield) but perform like a motoryacht, with a 240-nautical-mile range at 20 knots. That boat enjoyed the extra attention of national TV, with an NBC news crew crawling all over it during the early afternoon.
While this year’s show is off to a start that doesn’t call to mind any in recent memory, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The builders, journalists and other attendees who are forging ahead despite the virus are reaping a reward in their own right — far from the madding crowd.