Marina conference includes new elements

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Among the IMBC's features is a brochure distribution area for companies unable to attend

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The upcoming International Marina & Boatyard Conference will include a number of new features in addition to the familiar elements that keep marina owners, managers and others in the industry coming back each year.

IMBC takes place Jan. 27-29 at the Tampa (Fla.) Convention Center. Founded in 2002, the conference is produced by the Association of Marina Industries. The American Boat Builders and Repairers Association is no longer a co-producer, according to IMBC organizers.

"We do, however, still have a good relationship with ABBRA and continue to gear sessions and show events toward the repair segment of the industry," says conference co-coordinator Rachel LaMarre.

Approximately 650 people attended the last IMBC, and organizers are hopeful for a similar turnout in January. New networking events, an opportunity for those companies not able to attend to offer brochures in the exhibit hall, a new format for the industry awards presentation, and a new schedule for the annual field trip are some of the first-time aspects of the conference.

"I think this year, like every year, this is the place to come and interact with colleagues," says Jim Frye, president and chair of AMI. " [There's] no time more important than now to take advantage of the interaction and find out what folks are doing to get through these challenging times.

"We've got a strong program," he adds.

The conference portion features a keynote speech by Andrew Farkas, founder and chairman of Island Global Yachting. Bill Yeargin, president and CEO of Correct Craft, will present the closing seminar on the future of the industry. Economist Tony Villamil, former U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs, will be back to discuss the state of the economy.

"He was a real hit last year," Frye says. "We're enthusiastic that he's agreed to come back."

Other seminar topics include the future of marinas, "green" construction, grant funding, customer and employee retention, hurricane preparedness and Web 2.0, including social networking.

In general, Frye says, the marina segment of the industry has fared better than builders and dealers, with many hanging in there despite the challenges. "I think there are places where folks are suffering a bit," he says. "In some places, rates have been depressed, occupancies are off a little bit, but I would say [the economy has] had a lesser impact on the marina segment than certainly some of the other segments - manufacturing and sales.

"Marina operators find themselves in a good spot because folks that own boats are still trying to use them and are willing to pay for storage and are making the most of what they can with respect to their boats," Frye adds.

Dockominiums developers, however, may be the exception. While the dockominium concept was a hot topic a couple years ago, it's a word not often heard these days in marina circles. "A number of those [dockominium] businesses not only failed, but failed dramatically because that buyer essentially just went away," Frye says.

"Those that had plans that called for large numbers of folks buying their spaces, those plans just didn't work out, and there's a handful of those marinas that are out there on the fringe - some for sale, some not yet - but that's a group that got hit pretty hard," he reports.

Exhibits and networking

The 2010 conference includes 132 booths and more than 90 were sold by mid-September. "We have more booths contracted now for the 2010 show than we had last year at this time," says IMBC sales coordinator Ray Clark.

"Given the economic circumstances facing the industry, we are encouraged by these early booth registrations and expect full participation," Frye adds.

For a fee, companies that are unable to exhibit at the conference can display brochures and pamphlets in a special "Take One Brochure Exhibit" area in the exhibit hall.

In terms of networking, there is a new cigar bar event, which takes place at one of the host hotels, the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. It will feature a cigar roller and cash bar and, if the event is sponsored, it will include a steel drummer and one complimentary cigar per attendee.

The annual field trip of area marinas will take place Jan. 27, before the conference begins, rather than the final day of the event, so it does not coincide with Tampa's annual Gasparilla Pirate Fest, set for Jan. 30. This year's trip will visit Tampa Harbor, Westshore Yacht Club and Tampa Yacht & Country Club.

The awards reception has been changed to an evening event, rather than a breakfast. It will take place Jan. 29. National Marina Day and Marina Dock Age award winners will be announced.

Frye says he's confident the conference's diverse agenda and networking opportunities will satisfy attendees, adding that the conference is a good start to what will hopefully be a turnaround year for the boating industry.

"I'm optimistic for the first quarter of 2010. I think that we're seeing some signs of consumer confidence coming on," Frye says. "I think that as the weather changes and we roll into the winter, folks will perceive it as though they're still struggling maybe, but I'm confident that with the advent of spring, that barring something else catastrophic, folks are going to come back with some optimism for the next boating season."

For more on the conference or to register, visit the newly redesigned Web site at www.marinaassocia tion.org/imbc.

This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue.

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