FLIBS Goes Upmarket

Last year, the show had $6 million in infrastructure improvements. This year is a full-on makeover
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The show’s new plaza is designed to provide easier access for exhibitors and attendees than the previous entrance.

The show’s new plaza is designed to provide easier access for exhibitors and attendees than the previous entrance.

The multimillion-dollar makeover continues at this year’s Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, with a new plaza entrance, improved walkways through the 30-acre Bahia Mar location and better transportation connections.

The enhancements follow the $6 million that show organizer Informa spent last year on infrastructure improvements, including synthetic docks, composite flooring in the megatents and new electrical components. “The attendee experience is behind all the actions we’ve taken,” says Andrew Doole, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Informa U.S. Boat Shows. “We looked at everything and decided how to upgrade and improve the experience.”

That ranged from replacing the wood docks with synthetic piers to hiring a new food provider. “We spent a lot of time working out details, down to the colors of the directional totems that make it easier to navigate the show,” Doole says.

Informa, which acquired Show Management from Active Interest Media for $133 million in 2017, has provided the capital for improvements at FLIBS. The organizers have many templates for upscaling the event because Informa runs 200-plus trade shows in the United States and 700 around the world. “Every change adds to a better event for both attendees and exhibitors,” says Phil Purcell, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, which owns the show. “Last year, they worked on the features behind the curtain. Now they’re tweaking the experiences. The idea is to match the audience with the sophistication they’re used to in other venues. We’re doing what other markets have already done.”

Exotic cars have become a draw for attendees and expanded the exhibitor base.

Exotic cars have become a draw for attendees and expanded the exhibitor base.

Visitors are expected to represent 52 countries, with 54 percent coming from outside Florida. According to a study by Thomas J. Murray and Associates, FLIBS had an economic impact of $531.5 million in South Florida in 2015, and $857.3 million statewide.

“Over $100 million per day is changing hands during the show,” Purcell says. “The net worth of a thousand of the attendees is $20 million or more. We want to provide the same level of experience that those attendees might get from an exclusive concert or professional sporting event.”

The most obvious change at this year’s show will be the new entrance at the Bahia Mar Yachting Center, just south of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. The entrance will be designed like a plaza. Different zones will allow show-goers to shop, buy a drink or congregate while waiting for the show to open.

Last year, it could take attendees a half hour from the main entrance to get through the tents and see the water. Now the water and boats can be seen from the plaza. “We want them to be relaxed, energetic and excited in the plaza, rather than standing in line under the sun,” says Doole.

New security equipment will do away with bag checks and a new VIP/Exhibitor entrance allows immediate access. The former entrance at the show’s south end will still be open to exhibitors.

EDSA — a Fort Lauderdale-based firm of urban planners and landscape architects with offices in New York, Shanghai, Baltimore and Orlando — has been working on the changes. EDSA principal Scott LaMont met Doole several years ago, while EDSA was involved in the redesign of the Bahia Mar complex. LaMont’s team has spent the past year redesigning the show’s entrance and interior. “We spend a lot of time thinking about what people will see,” LaMont says. “We looked at how great concerts create a sense of place with the visuals. We wanted to bring some of that vibe into the boat show.”

The EDSA team also focused on show logistics. “Our goal was to simplify how visitors move around the show,” LaMont says. “That meant increasing the cross connections along the docks and creating a hierarchy of pathways, similar to any city. We created identifiers, visual cues and icons to make it easier to find your way around the huge space. This project has been great fun.”

The show’s food will also be upgraded this year. Atlanta-based Proof of the Pudding will take over food distribution, focusing on farm-to-plate fruits and vegetables, sustainable seafood and organic meals. The show will have portable and stationary food concessions with ethnic themes.

“We’ll see the cuisine improve 100 percent at the show,” Doole says. “Proof of the Pudding will also offer catering to our exhibitors.”

Organizers have made the show easier to navigate with color-coded zones and larger directional signs.

Organizers have made the show easier to navigate with color-coded zones and larger directional signs.

Transportation and parking networks will be extended, with 18 parking areas, bus shuttles and water taxis that connect the seven show sites. The water taxis, which can be accessed with a wristband, will run on four routes among venues. Shuttle buses will run all day.

The convention center will have more attractions for divers and anglers. Reef Aquaria Design will have two aquariums at the center’s entrance, and Marine Research Hub will have live-reef tanks. “The quality of the displays at the convention center has improved in recent years,” Doole says. “That’s gone hand in hand with the quality of the boats. The space is sold out going forward, as manufacturers have replaced dealers as exhibitors. Many builders want to showcase their new models out of the water.”

In the next three years, the convention center is expected to have more exhibit space for larger boats. Doole also notes plans to upgrade other venues. Las Olas Marina is scheduled to gain a new entrance next year, along with a new parking lot in January 2019. The site should be able to accommodate larger yachts.

“Pier 66 will also be redeveloped, with the potential to bring in more superyachts,” Doole says. “Plans to upgrade Sails Marina, which will be renamed Pier 66 South, are also in the works. We’re going to see a critical mass of bigger superyachts at those two marinas and the Hilton Marina. They’ll become a magnet for visitors.”

This year’s show will be the subject of a one-hour NBC Sports special, similar to the network’s North American International Auto Show special. The program will highlight boats, technical innovations and lifestyle amenities. Purcell hopes the special will give FLIBS more exposure than ever. “It’ll be broadcast to millions around the world,” Purcell says. “That kind of exposure really is a big deal. It demonstrates how the event is coming of age.”

FLIBS is scheduled to run fromOct. 31 through Nov. 4.

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue.

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