Expectations Running High for Winter Boat Shows

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With most summer and fall boat shows wiped out by Covid-19, the industry’s all-important winter boat shows are expected to be more important than ever — set to kick off in early January, per usual. That’s the consensus of marine trade association executive directors across the country.

However, to hedge all bets, many MTA’s are currently collaborating on the creation of new virtual show platforms as both backups and add-ons to the expected live expositions.

It’s important to note there are still some key fall shows set to go. Next up will be the Jersey Shore Boat Sale & Expo produced by the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey on September 25-27.

“The show site is baseball’s FirstEnergy Park that has been successfully holding events since June,” explained Melissa Danko, MTANJ’s executive director. “Our event is entirely outside and mostly in their vast parking lots offering a safe and convenient way for consumers to shop and board boats of all types. Our promotions emphasize the outdoor setting and we will exceed all the safety recommendations,” she added.

Other key shows still alive on the fall schedule include FLIBS (Oct. 28-Nov. 1) and Ft. Myers (Nov. 12-15).

But it’s the critical winter show circuit that’s the focus of on-going weekly zoom meetings for many MTA’s. “While we are preparing for our winter shows as usual,” said Michelle Burke, president of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association, “we not going to be like the squirrel in the road that didn’t make a good decision! We recognize the winter shows are critical to our dealers’ overall success, and we all want to make certain we can deliver a boat-sales boost no matter what. Indeed, with the live shows going as planned, potentially coupled with a powerful virtual experience, we could be delivering a two-punch start to the year,” she predicted.

The collaborating group of MTA’s range from Maine to Texas, Florida to Washington. They acknowledge boat sales during the pandemic hit it out of the park. But they also share realistic concerns looking forward — both economic and those related to allowable large indoor events and facilities.

“The speed and extent of this economic contraction was unprecedented,” said David Ray, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of Central Florida, “We now have concerns the speed of the economy righting itself appears to be slowing, and we MTA’s must be ready to respond to the needs of our members in all scenarios. Still, our show site, the Orange County Convention Center (Orlando), just held the AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships with over 20,000 participants inside the hall — a good sign,” Ray was happy to add.

Because most big winter shows are held indoors, the group is aware they could get caught up in the financial problems facing many major market venues. For example. the Orlando facility had 54 events cancelled thru July equating to 500,000 attendees and 717,000 lost nearby hotel-room nights. That’s an estimated loss of $1.05 billion! In addition, new direct costs at that facility from Covid-19 are now at $351,155 and climbing, which may directly impact the winter rental fees and services fees the shows could face.

In another example, Cleveland’s I-X Center, while currently still closed, has already raised the question about the significant costs of additional cleaning, security and show-related needs. “We will likely see surcharges and may even have to pass them along to exhibitors – it’s unclear right now,” said Burke. “But what is clear is our Progressive Cleveland Boat Show & Fishing Expo will be a go in January, one way or the other.”

Meanwhile, the Michigan Boating Industries Association is holding show committee meetings to identify key milestones as they look ahead to their Progressive Detroit Boat Show in January. The committee has identified major influences that could drastically change the landscape for their show, including: the election results; schools re-opening experiences; football at Ford Field; a big Home Show in October; and, of course, a vaccine becoming available.

“We’re watching carefully and we’re optimistic,” said Nicki Polan, MBIA executive director. “Our committee is convinced if we’re allowed to have the show, the attendance will not be negatively impacted because the show will open as a retail location and Costco and other big retailers are as busy as pre-pandemic. Moreover, there are now hundreds of new boaters in Michigan who have never been to a boat show and will be curious to see what it’s all about. And, we think many of those new buyers were limited on choice due to inventory levels and may want to purchase a different boat better suited for their needs,” she added.

Maryland-based Ad Strategies, believed to be the agency handling the most boat shows, auto shows and more nationally, recently cited this: “The State Fair was in July. It was 60 percent [capacity]...During the second half attendance was double the first half. As consumers saw others posting about how comfortable and safe it was, more people attended. It’s all about confidence. If people are convinced you have made adaptations and things are safe, they’ll attend.”

In Seattle, the Northwest Marine Trades Association held a virtual Anacortes Boat & Yacht Show replacing its normal summer in-water event. “We had 33 exhibitors participating in this first-ever attempt for us,” explained NMTA president George Harris, “and while we hoped for a bigger attendance we recognized it was a whole new approach so it turned out good and we were particularly happy to learn it did sell some boats.”

NMTA has also expanded its digital outreach by creating “Seattle Boat Show LIVE,” a weekly program boasting a variety of features ranging from area cruising guides to practical anchoring techniques. So, while planning for the 2021 Seattle Boat Show, January 29-February 6, work continues in the virtual arena.

Other MTA’s joining these weekly meetings discussing future shows and digital assets include: Houston, Maine, Connecticut, Southwest Florida and Rhode Island.  

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