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Boat Shows are Back

If there were any doubts about the future of boat shows, given the unsettledness of the Covid-19 pandemic, they were soundly laid to rest last weekend as two more shows chalked up strong attendance and good sales.

The Orlando Boat Show at the Orange County Convention Center in Florida had its highest attendance in a decade, topping the 2019 attendance by a whopping 66 percent. (Covid scuttled the 2020 show.) Equally important, this was the first indoor major-market show since the pandemic started to wipe out the industry’s indoor events a year ago.

“This success is beyond anything we imagined,” said David Ray, executive director of the Marine Industry Association of Central Florida. “While outdoor shows have done well, like our recent Daytona show that set a 20-year attendance record, we were not certain what the response would be to a big indoor event. So we budgeted for a possible 50 percent drop in our normal attendance and hoped it might only be 25 percent. So much for our predictions. The boaters show us they’ll go all out to experience a good boat show.”

Ray also noted that early reports from some dealers indicate sales on the floor also exceeded expectations. While some dealers said they displayed fewer boats than normal because of inventory issues, sales were still excellent.

“Boating is definitely still on a roll,” Ray said.

Bonita Springs

The pace continued at the Bonita Springs Boat Show, an all-outdoor event staged at Florida’s Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track last weekend. This longstanding show really reflected what other outdoor shows held in the South during the fall and winter have experienced: People want to attend in-person boat shows.

“Just about two months ago, we weren’t really certain we’d even do this show,” said John Good, executive director of the Southwest Florida Marine Industries Association. “And while some dealers reduced space because of inventory issues, the show was still big, loaded with boats and impressive.

“When the attendance on opening day doubled our last show there,” Good continued, “we knew it was going to be a good weekend, even in spite of some rain showers on Saturday. In the end, attendance was up 68 percent. My son Kyle and I spent a couple of hours Sunday afternoon directing traffic in the parking lot, and both dealers and especially our service booths and fishing tackle exhibitors reported excellent sales.”

The momentum started with the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey’s September show, through Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Charlotte and now a major-market indoor show in Orlando. It’s clear boat shows continue to be a popular and cost-effective marketing event that puts dealers face-to-face with prospects and buyers that can’t be duplicated any other way.


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