In spite of an NFL season home opener for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Tampa Boat Show chalked up a big win with increased attendance, more boats and successful special events.
“Attendance for the show was up 10 percent,” show manager Larry Berryman reported at closing Sunday night. “It’s been a show of increase for us, with more exhibitor support, more events and more people through the gate."
In particular, Berryman was referring to the increase in big boats displayed in the water outside the Tampa Convention Center. More than 45 boats up to 97 feet were dockside, nearly twice last year’s count. In addition, a special preview night for the in-water fleet was held the evening before the show opened. More than 350 special guests invited by the dealers enjoyed live music, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, valet parking and VIP treatment on the docks. News coverage proclaimed “the big boats are back.”
The Tampa show also reflected the trend by show managers to include more features and activities to draw the boaters back to the shows. Tampa featured: Daily appearances of Josh Harris (the Cornelia Marie) from TV’s “Deadliest Catch” series; TV character Patrick Star from “SpongeBob SquarePants” for the kids; extensive fishing seminars daily on the Best Buy Stage; the Tampa Bay Lightening’s Chris Dingman and Stan Neckar, members of the Stanley Cup championship team along with the Lightning Girls and the team mascot and Thunder Marine’s “Ladies at the Helm,” with classroom and on-the-water instruction sessions.
Topping it all was a highly successful Discover Boating Resource Center that offered on-the-water, hands-on learning experiences. Billed as “boating made easy,” the program was initiated by the Tampa show last year and virtually doubled this time around. A total of 93 on-water learning sessions were offered (up from 44 last year) during the three-day show. A total of 232 show goers (108 in sailing and 124 power boating) participated in the 60-90 minute training, plus an additional 170 participants enrolled in the 30-minute jet boat or ski boat experiences. The 402 total participants more than doubled last year. (For each session’s description, go to www.tampaboatshow.com)
I observed the Discover Boating Resource Center operation all three days. Its value was even more than I expected. For example, Richard Bottum of St. Petersburg participated in a close quarters handling session. When he finished, he said, “I’m about to get back into boating after 10 years and this was perfectly timed for me.” Tampa residents Richard Muirragui and Brandt Cosgrove also took close quarters handling. “It was terrific,” said Muirragui. “It’s the first time anyone showed me the right techniques,” added Cosgrove.
Here’s my favorite -- Doug and Carole Weston from Clearwater revealed this: “We don’t use our Pathfinder much because, frankly, docking scares the hell out of me,” Doug admitted and Carole agreed. After they finished the docking session aboard a single outboard Key West, they were ecstatic. “I just needed someone to teach me what I just learned – this was great," they said.
What can we take away from the Tampa show? (1) Tampa was the industry’s second major fall show of the year. Michigan City was first with attendance equaling last year’s good results. Tampa followed, up 10 percent. Gotta like the trend so far! (2) The Discover Boating hands-on initiative is obviously a powerful concept for those shows with in-water access. (3) Hands-on training is something welcomed by a lot of boaters who will even take time out from seeing the show to learn. That raises the prospect that dealers can take advantage of the customer’s desire for some hands-on lessons. Offering occasional sessions taught by, say, a local licensed captain could help customers become more confident and, likely, they’ll use their boat more. It would also help keep the customers engaged with the dealership. That’s a win-win.