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Winter Boat Shows Are Back … or Are They?


Just when we thought we could bring back our industry’s lineup of major market winter boat shows, the rapid-spreading Covid-19 omicron variant surfaces around the country (cue the forehead slap). I’m beginning to develop an intense dislike for anything with a Greek name.

The latest victim is the Cleveland Boat Show, which would have been the first major-market show of the winter circuit when it opened Jan. 13. It now won’t run until March 17-20.

“Because we cannot be certain how extensive this variant will be by mid-January and Ohio is getting hit pretty hard, we’ve chosen to exercise an abundance of caution for all our exhibitor personnel and the thousands of boaters that normally attend,” said Michelle Burke, president of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association.

“We’re fortunate that we could obtain March dates at the I-X Center to stage the show, and we have no doubts the boaters will respond as always,” she added. “Equally important, boat dealers from across Ohio, as well our more than 200 accessory, equipment, marina and service exhibitors scheduled for this January, have initially indicated they’ll be here in March.”

Some other major-market winter shows had been cancelled earlier, including Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta and Nashville. But others, such as Seattle, New York and New England, are still set to go.

Also set to go are the Daytona Boat Show (Jan. 14-16) and the St. Petersburgh Power & Sail Show (Jan. 20-23), the latter a combination of the cancelled Tampa Boat Show from last September and a St. Petersburgh show previously held in December. However, these are both outdoor shows; Daytona is at the Speedway, and St. Pete is an in-water show.

No matter how you measure it, the loss of major winter shows to the omicron variant will negatively impact the industry’s critical need to engage and retain the record number of new boaters who have taken up the lifestyle during the pandemic. Boat shows are expected to play a key role in maintaining the interest of our more than 400,000 first-time buyers, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

In catering to those newbies, show organizers have been planning additional seminars, clinics and features aimed squarely at helping new boaters learn how to enjoy their boats safely. And the importance of the industry doing so through shows and other means cannot be overlooked.

Statistically, the industry knows well that a large number of new boaters will drop out of the sport in the early years of ownership. Moreover, it’s a real possibility that, with so many newbies involved, the process may speed up, resulting in more than an average number of late-model, low-hour boats hitting the market sooner rather than later.

For the many winter shows that are still on schedule, nothing will help the industry more than seeing the omicron curve peak and dramatically drop.


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