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A report from METS

With attendance down only 6 percent from last year’s record, the mood at the 2008 METS show was decidedly upbeat, despite the ominous clouds produced by global economic problems. Some exhibitors, however, did express concern about their economic future and how well their companies would weather what lies ahead.

Many saw the events unfolding in the United States as key to the economic health of Europe. As one exhibitor put it: “We think our market is holding steady right now, but it all depends on the extent to which the American downturn will come to Europe.”

In talking to several other people on the show floor, most were concerned about where the economic shakeup was going and when it was going to end. Sometimes this situation translated into greater caution about making purchases. For example, one buyer from the upper Midwest said he was not sure exactly what his company would buy right now in view of the current slump in the U.S. economy.

Nevertheless, the show exhibited many signs of strength in the marine industry. It had a record number of 1,210 exhibitors, including a much expanded superyacht pavilion, and it was attended by 18,485 visitors. Although that attendance number was down from last year’s 19,764, it was up significantly from 2006 when 16,805 people visited the show.

Irene Dros, the show manager, said that attendance was slightly off, but she thought that most of the attendees were better qualified to make purchases than in previous years. “The people who are coming to the show are the boatyard and boat company people who are actually doing the buying,” she said at the exhibitor party on the first evening. “We are pleased with the mood on the show floor,” she added. “People seem very positive.”

The superyacht pavilion showed that this sector of the market is still strong, even though it has slowed somewhat over the last few months. The buyers who were coming out of Russia in droves a year or two ago have been reined in by the Russian economic downturn, which has caused a few building slots to evaporate. However, these events do not seem to have affected many American companies.

Trinity, in Louisiana, has a backlog of 22 yachts to build, while Palmer Johnson, in Wisconsin, is also still strong, even though its yachts are built largely for the European market. What may be affected more by the Russian downturn in the superyacht market is the styling of the yachts that are being built. Without a traditional yachting background, Russian owners have tended to be far more avant-garde in their tastes than European and American owners, with the result that many incredibly stylish yachts have been built for the Russian market. Whether these styling advances will carry over to other owners remains to be seen.

The future of the entire boating industry will be very interesting to observe over the next several months. As one who is on the judging panels for both the IBEX innovation awards and the DAME awards at the METS show, I have seen more new and innovative products in the last few months than I’ve seen in a long time. It would appear that manufacturers are continuing to develop interesting and useful new products so they can be ready to take advantage of the next economic upturn.

Most future boats, not just superyachts, will be greener, more exciting, and include a larger number of new features than they have in the past. This bodes well for the companies that are able to get through the next year or so of economic challenges.

Roger Marshall
U.S. member of the DAME awards jury at METS

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