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It’s Boat Show Time … or Not

Boat shows are what I’d normally be blogging about as we start the New Year and the winter circuit traditionally begins, with the Houston International Boat, Sport & Travel Show.

Sadly, not this year. Not in Texas or New York or Detroit or Chicago or Los Angeles. Covid-19 has shut us down, albeit with a few notable exceptions that are sure to be carefully observed and analyzed. But there’s full expectation that the ill winds giving us rough seas today will end this year, and our boat shows will return in full force, likely beginning this spring.

While the loss of our major winter shows is a downer, there continues to be reasons for optimism. For example, as the pandemic’s eventual end appears on the horizon, just-passed legislation will pump $900 billion into the economy, perhaps more. In addition, most working families have been putting a good share of their income into savings accounts. That’s money for down payments. And the central bank continues to hold short-term rates near zero, so financing boats remains very attractive.

Put it together, and it supports my prediction that boats will remain in high demand this year. And not all winter shows are dry-docked. There will be show action on several fronts this month, and more as we head into spring. But we’re talking either in-water shows or reimagined online events.

First up is the St. Petersburg Power & Sailboat Show in Florida, an in-water event normally held in early December but moved to Jan. 14-17. Based on the success of the recent Fort Myers In-Water Boat Show, St. Petersburg also is expected to do well, as boaters respond to shows.

Moreover, early-spring shows already announced as on schedule include the Bay Bridge Boat Show (April 16-18), the Annapolis Spring Sailboat Show (April 30-May 2), and the Catawba Island Yacht Show in Ohio (April 30-May2).

But first, two unique digital show concepts will premiere this month in Ohio and Washington by the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association and the Northwest Marine Trade Association.

LEMTA’s 2021 Cleveland Boat Show & Fishing Expo will change course and couple a 10-day online event with live, in-store activities at participating dealer showrooms. “It’s actually a hybrid show,” says Michelle Burke, LEMTA president. “We’ve developed a complete digital show to stream into the homes of Ohio’s boaters. It includes displays of latest boats and accessories, with live and prerecorded seminars, contests and fun activities.”

Concurrently, LEMTA-member dealers exhibiting in the online show will be holding live, in-store events, including seminars and related activities. The goal is to combine a slick online event with an in-store show experience that delivers the midwinter taste of summer that boaters enjoy. The Cleveland show, which will be promoted digitally and in broadcast and print media, will run Jan. 15 to 24, and attendee registrations is free.

Meanwhile, in Seattle, the NMTA is readying its Seattle Boat Show Connected, online for Jan. 28-31. NMTA is a leader in virtual boat shows, having held its first foray into this online scene with its successful Anacortes Boat & Yacht Show last summer.

Seattle’s Connected format will enable visitors to interact in real time with exhibitors, browse through boat-show specials and schedule a phone call, Zoom meeting or in-person appointment — all within the exhibitor’s virtual booth space.

A major draw of the Seattle show has been its industry-leading slate of boating, fishing and “Boat Show University” seminars. That continues this year. It amounts to more than 100 hours of original content.

Show visitors can watch live seminars streaming on the show site, and chat and interact with other viewers and the presenters. Boating and fishing seminars are 40 minutes in length, and there will be 68 from which to choose. Boat Show University programs take a deeper dive into Northwest boating topics and are two hours in length, with 15 options. This show charges admission fees.

Four ticket packages range from $5 to $89, with access to myriad features and benefits in the higher prices. The show theme: “Start Online, and End Up on the Water!”

Every marine trade association is planning for the return of traditional live shows in the fall and next winter. And one thing is certain: Digital productions may be a stop-gap solution, but live shows remain what boaters respond to and, therefore, will continue to be the most cost-effective way dealers can come face-to-face with large numbers of buyers and prospects in a short time.

For more boat show news, check out Thursday’s Dealer Outlook blog.

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