The 61st Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, which closed Sunday, was a scaled-down version compared to past events, but exhibitors said they saw pent-up demand from attendees.
The five-day outdoor show featured hundreds of exhibitors and boats on display across nearly 90 acres and six city sites.
Organizers are touting the event as the initial “safety-first” boat show following Informa’s comprehensive AllSecure health and safety standards. These measures included mandatory face coverings and social distancing, a contactless ticketing system, added and expanded entrances, widened docks, ongoing cleaning of all areas before, during and after each day’s events, plus numerous hand sanitizing stations and CDC signage posted throughout the event.
As people have turned to boating as a way to socially distance and escape with family members, early reports from FLIBS’ exhibitors showed a continuation of that trend, organizers said.
“Our numbers are all incredibly positive, attendance of the first two days of the show was actually up 12 percent versus 2019,” said Azimut-Benetti Americas president Federico Ferrante in a statement. “Overall attendance was down only 20 percent, which given the circumstances, is an achievement. Last, but surely not least, we contracted 16 units at the show, which is only slightly less than our average FLIBS.”
The scaled-down event has proven to be one of the best shows that HMY Yachts has participated in for a long time, said HMY sales director Tim Derrico, adding: “While the crowd has been moderate, most people are yacht owners or buyers. We have contracted more yachts than expected.”
“The first three days at FLIBS have far surpassed our expectations. Informa’s communication and safety protocols has ensured attendees feel safe to attend,” said Sally Doleski, VP of marketing of Alexander Marine and Ocean Alexander. “The clients who have visited our booth and toured our products have been highly qualified buyers, and the ability to debut our newest yacht models to serious buyers is priceless.”
The boatbuilder has two contracts and deposits from the show, and a sale to a new client that connected to the company via the show, said Doleski.
“From the start of set-up, the tone of the show was undoubtedly different, but it was clear to me that the Informa team was intent on ensuring a safe environment for all exhibitors and attendees,” said Princess Yachts Americas vice president and marketing director James Noble. “All of this was extremely positive, and even above and beyond expectations. We have seen outstanding sales success and activity as a result of the show. As of Saturday, we had seven yachts under contract, and a number of strong leads to follow up on that we believe will result in outstanding sales results. Even better, there is a sense of urgency in the activity that you would not normally see during a major election year.”
Attendees also gave positive feedback on the show.
“I always go to a boat show with intent to buy boats and I bought two boats at the show. I bought a 32-meter Ocean Alexander and a smaller outboard Ocean Alexander[ [the 45-foot Divergence],” said John Staluppi, an auto magnate and boating enthusiast. “I knew the show organizers were trying to be as careful as possible. I knew I was coming, but I felt better once I arrived and saw everything; I felt really good about it.”
Local businesses, many of which have taken a hard hit from the pandemic, were relieved the show took place.
“While it was not as big as previous years, it was by far our best week since we were allowed to re-open due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Tim Petrillo, CEO and cofounder of The Restaurant People, the parent company of 12 area restaurants. “Seeing our businesses get back to somewhat normalized levels gives our entire team hope that there is light at the end of this very dark tunnel we have been thrust into.”
Petrillo is grateful that organizers “pushed forward” when nearly all other events have been cancelled.
“Their leadership shows that these types of events can be executed in a safe, responsible manner and will pave the way for other events to be hosted in our destination…which our tourism industry desperately needs during this very challenging time,” said Petrillo.