The decline in both size and attendance of the industry’s boat shows appears to have ended in 2010 and showed signs of improvement in 2011. That was the conclusion at the National Marine Trades Council’s annual meeting over the weekend in Orlando, Fla. prior to the Marine Retailers Association of America's Marine Dealer Conference and Exhibition.
The 39-year-old NMTC is made up of executive directors and boat show managers from the industry’s marine trade associations across the country. In studying the results of the 46 major boat shows produced by the 19 associations present at the NMTC meeting, the numbers revealed a notable turnaround this year.
More specifically, of the 46 shows, 34 recorded either some attendance increase or remained essentially unchanged from 2010 results. It signals a good change from the fact that virtually all the shows experienced attendance declines in 2009 and, particularly, in 2010. Similarly, many of the shows reported the significant declines in exhibitors and space of 2010 ended in 2011, with a few shows even seeing some increase.
“I think going into the big winter shows ahead for 2012, we have good reasons to expect this trend will continue,” said NMTC chairman George Harris, of the Northwest Marine Trades Association. “After two very tough years (’09-’10) for shows, 2011 gives us reason to look for some growth again."
Primarily, the meeting focused on how to spur on growth and increase show success for exhibitors. Over the last two years, a majority of the shows at the NMTC meeting have begun using a common marketing agency, Ad Strategies of Easton, Md. The firm is believed to be the largest single agency handling a wide variety of consumer shows including, for example, all shows produced by Motor Trend, all NMMA boat shows and many others.
Following an in-depth presentation of the successes of various marketing programs used by various shows Ad Strategies handled this year, Greg Bojko, Ad Strategies’ vice president, suggested a shift in the way shows are projected to the public is needed.
“Boat shows are at the point where show features and entertainment have become most important,” Bojko said. “Features must be interactive, entertaining and/or provide a good experience . . . you’ve got to show the prospective attendees the show is fun." He went on to explain that there are show cycles. For example, in good times in auto and boat shows, success is usually driven by introduction of new models and equipment. But both industries are coming out with a lot of really new stuff during this economy, so the show drawing cards must be shifted to increased attractions, activities and features.
The consensus was obvious – all attendees indicated they’d work to incorporate more attractions into their boat shows this winter with the expectation that it will generate increased attendance. Overall, the NMTC meeting clearly reflected a heightened level of enthusiasm and confidence for the industry’s winter boat show circuit . . . and that will kick off in just two months with the opening of the New York boat show on Jan. 4.