Things Have Changed

Publish date:

I’ll grab an alfresco table at a hillside boulangerie as the morning sun illuminates Vieux Port and the Îles de Lérins beyond the harbor in Cannes, France. There will be just enough time for a quick cappuccino and croissant before a full day of press conferences and boat debuts, in a pattern destined to repeat itself for the next several days.

After a flight back home across the
Atlantic, there will be a week with the
family before meeting my fellow Active
Interest Media journalists at Newport, R.I,’s Franklin Spa for coffee, egg sandwiches and a plan to blanket the docks for a day of
interviews and sea trials.

Of course, this year, it will only happen in my mind’s eye.

Late summer and early fall is usually a darn good time to be a marine journalist. This year, however, the Cannes Yachting Festival and Newport International Boat Show have been canceled because of Covid-19. The U.K.’s Boats2020 scheduled for September — as an alternative to the canceled Southampton Yacht Show — was called off the evening before opening day, in response to an uptick of Covid-19 infections and growing government fears of a super-spreader event.

But not all of the big fall shows have been jettisoned. Just before this issue was shipped to the printer, the Broward County Commission gave organizers of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show clearance to carry on, provided a safety plan was followed to the letter. Judging from the local business owners — hoteliers, boat brokers and others — who called in to the live-streamed board meeting, the show must go on for the good of the community.

FLIBS’ economic impact cannot be understated. Last year’s show reportedly
generated $1.3 billion for the state of Florida, with more than 8,000 full-time jobs associated with the event.

“It’s an incredible event and a very important one for both Viking and the marine industry,” Viking Yachts CEO Pat Healey told Soundings Trade Only. “We’re encouraged by their safety plans and attention to detail, and we will certainly do our part to support their efforts and make sure our display is safe with the proper health protocols and procedures. We look forward to seeing our owners, dealers and industry colleagues as we continue to get back to normal.”

Others I spoke with also seemed pleased that FLIBS would take place. For some people, the nod to normalcy feels like a respite in a year that has thrown builders, dealers, parts suppliers and just about everyone else a cavalcade of wicked circumstances to overcome.

It’s been widely reported that this season has been unprecedented in terms of sales, and the buying boom continued through the summer. Boat rentals skyrocketed as well, with many marinas and clubs experiencing record demand while being unable to add new vessels because of scarce manufacturer inventory.

“I hear stories of people lining up at 3 or 4 a.m. and sitting in their lawn chairs just so they can get a boat,” Lake George Freedom Boat Club owner Matt O’Hara told our senior reporter Reagan Haynes.

As a result of all that demand, though, supply-chain issues remain a big concern heading into what would usually be the big fall boat show season. Inventory is still a challenge too: 82 percent of dealers who responded to our monthly survey said new-boat inventory was too low, and 89 percent said used-boat inventory remained extremely lean and near record lows.

On top of all this, it’s an election year, with a huge number of members of the Congressional Boating Caucus up for reelection. Heading into 2021, our industry will need its champions on Capitol Hill more than ever.

The view from that hill in Washington, D.C., may not be as scenic as the one overlooking Vieux Port in Cannes, but it’s likely to become the most important backdrop for our industry this year. With the pandemic continuing, and with the choices that elected officials make continuing to affect the very existence of our biggest industry events, we’re all going to have to direct more of our time and attention to ensuring a bright future for boating.

Perhaps we should head to the Old Town neighborhood on the Potomac River to make a plan. I hear they serve a great breakfast sandwich on the beautiful cobblestone walkways outside the Union Street Public House. 

This article was originally published in the October 2020 issue.


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