Boat show season in South Florida has come to feel like a suspense thriller — Escape from South Beach — and while the scariest scenes have already played out, there are still a few plot twists to unwind.
As the Miami International Boat Show enters its fifth year on Virginia Key and the Miami Yacht Show kicks off year two at its downtown location near the Venetian Causeway, and as they both prepare for their Feb. 13-17 runs, the production teams continue to tinker with everything from layouts to restrooms to dining options. Besides indoor exhibition areas, there will be more than 2,000 boats on display across the shows.
The Miami Yacht Show, in particular, is under pressure to improve after last year’s rushed move off Collins Avenue led to decent sales but left exhibitors wanting more show-driven leads and better traffic flows around the show. “I do feel like they have a good plan,” says Chuck Cashman, chief revenue officer of MarineMax, who voiced complaints following last year’s show about a shortage of show-driven leads. “I did warn them that we need to see results this year, and they seem to have responded with a much stronger marketing program.”
Andrew Doole, who runs the yacht show and SuperYacht Miami on Watson Island for Informa, says organizers have taken heed. “We’ve listened to the exhibitors, and I think we’ve addressed the majority of their concerns,” says Doole, president of Informa’s U.S. boat shows.
The new layout plan starts at the entrance, which will now be at the south end of the show and funnel patrons through a product pavilion that has expanded to 200-plus displays in 67,000 square feet with added air conditioning. Once attendees emerge at the in-water part of the show, they will find 400 boats (including 60 that are more than 100 feet) spread across three adjacent marinas and connected by a wide central dock with barges on both sides. The arrangement replaces last year’s grid layout, which many exhibitors believed unfairly funneled customers to the large boats on the front side and neglected smaller offerings back off the main path.
To drive visitors to the docks at the north end of the show, which requires them to cross the busy Venetian Causeway, Doole hopes to add a dock that runs underneath the roadway. He’s deep into the permitting process with the Miami Fire-Rescue Department, but as of press time, he’d yet to receive an official OK.
Despite the changes, there still seems to be a wait-and-see attitude among some potential exhibitors. “One of [our Florida] dealers had brokerage boats at that show,” says Rob Parmentier, the CEO of Marquis-Carver Yachts, which recently added the Lexus brand.
Marquis-Carver last year displayed all of its product lines at the NMMA show on Virginia Key after the yacht show moved from Miami Beach. “Our dealer felt that it was too iffy to put our Lexus yacht over there this year. They said the traffic last year was up and down,” Parmentier says. “Having said that, we’ll see how it goes and talk to other exhibitors at the yacht show to decide if we might want to move next year.”
At the very least, it will be easier to move between shows, since water taxis will now connect the yacht show, SuperYacht Miami and the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s Miami International Boat Show on Virginia Key.
What taxi riders will find when they reach Virginia Key is an operation that, after four years on-site, is fine-tuning more than reorganizing. The boat show moved to the city-owned parkland around Miami Marine Stadium in 2015 and, after successfully defending itself against a last-minute lawsuit, has passed through a growing-pains process similar to the one the yacht show is going through now.
“I think the NMMA and the city of Miami have adjusted and responded well,” says Scott Porter, president of Formula Boats and an NMMA board member. “They’ve continued to invest yearly to make the facility better.”
Still, there is more work to do. “Every year has progressed, and we’re pleased with what we see,” says David Wollard, senior director at marine heating and A/C company Webasto, “but there are some things that we’d like to see improve.” Specifically, he yearns for better air conditioning and traffic flow in the tents, and for more restrooms overall.
At least one of his wishes will be granted this year, as the show adds five custom restroom trailers on newly paved areas. Other upgrades, according to show director Larry Berryman, include a new partnership with Anheuser-Busch for a beer garden, additional sit-down eating areas and more grab-and-go food options. The total number of boats on display is up from last year, rising to 1,400 (700 in the water) representing more than 140 brands.
“One thing that really distinguishes the Miami show is the opportunity to take boats out on the water and sea-trial them,” Berryman says. The number of demo boats this year will rise to approximately 250. Those boats will be joined by a fleet of water taxis that has grown from 23 last year to 28, providing the capacity to transport 40,000 guests during the five days of the show.
“As I dream about other things that could be done, I’d love to see them refurbish the Marine Stadium and have a concert during the show,” Porter says. “That would be spectacular.”
The name of that movie? Jimmy Buffett Returns.
This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue.