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The Future of Shows

As the percentage of the population getting vaccinated against Covid-19 continues to increase in the United States and around the world, Soundings Trade Only reached out to stateside and international show directors and administrators to discuss plans for 2021 and 2022.

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Andrew Doole is president of the U.S. Boat Shows division of London-based Informa Markets, which owns and operates international boat and yacht events. Doole leads the daily operations and oversees the production, government relations, partnerships, sales and overall strategic direction of Informa Markets’ Florida-based boat and yacht shows.

Anne Dunbar is show director of the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition and Conference. A lifelong boater from Connecticut, Dunbar joined IBEX in 2001 as sales and marketing manager and has served in the role of show director since 2012.

Glenn Hughes is president of the American Sportfishing Association. ASA gives America’s 46 million anglers a voice in policy decisions that affect their ability to fish sustainably on our nation’s waterways through Keep America Fishing, a national advocacy campaign.

Niels Klarenbeek is director of Metstrade, the world’s largest trade exhibition for equipment, materials and systems for the international marine industry, organized by RAI Amsterdam in cooperation with ICOMIA. Klarenbeek is an avid water sports enthusiast who sails in his spare time with his wife and two children.

Nancy Piffard is show director of the Newport International Boat Show, overseeing sales, marketing and operations. A Rhode Island native, Piffard lives in Newport with her dog, Rosie, and enjoys travel, reading and hiking.

Jennifer Thompson, the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s senior vice president of boat and sport shows, oversees NMMA’s 14 consumer shows, as well as the organization’s interests in marine trade events, such as IBEX, Metstrade and ICAST. She also serves as president of the International Federation of Boat Show Organizers.

In-person boat shows are returning, albeit with appropriate safety measures, which may include masks and deep cleaning. 

In-person boat shows are returning, albeit with appropriate safety measures, which may include masks and deep cleaning. 

How important are in-person events for the marine industry?

Thompson: There’s really nothing like a boat show to showcase the variety of boat types, brands and all the marine products to the consumer. At the same time, we’re immersing attendees in the boating lifestyle — while educating them. I think this is going to be especially important going forward as the industry looks to engage and retain the record number of new boaters who entered the market during the pandemic. I think the boat shows of the future will actually be hybrid events, bringing together that in-person experience with complementary digital offerings and engaging those attendees well before and long after the event to assist them on their journey as boaters.

Dunbar: While in-person consumer events like large boat shows offer the boat buyer a vital experience that is necessary for a confident purchase, in-person trade events like IBEX and Metstrade cannot be replaced by virtual events. Because a live IBEX show is so important to the growth of our industry, we are doing everything we can to provide a safe environment this year. We know how important trade shows can be, and we are excited to come together once again in September for the 30th celebration of IBEX.

Doole: The in-person aspect is absolutely critical. People who have a dream of boat ownership can realize it, up to a point, when they go and talk to manufacturers and actually see the boats in the water. To be able to comparison shop between two models is important. There’s no substitute to seeing what’s new in person — electronics, boats, the constant innovation in the marine industry.

Piffard: In-person boat shows provide an opportunity for companies to promote and sell their boats, services and accessories to the interested masses in one location. In-person shows allow for great networking opportunities and meeting new prospects to fill the pipeline for future sales. In-person shows give the attendees the option to shop and compare the brands, all in one location. They can actually climb aboard and get a feel for which boat is the best fit for them. Even if they are not buying a boat, they can outfit the one they own and check out all the new gadgets and gear. There is energy on the docks and on land, excitement you can feel. You can’t get that virtually.

Klarenbeek: If Covid-19 has taught us one thing, it’s the power of in-person events. Yes, the industry has been able to connect through virtual means, but we are seeing a very strong appetite to meet in person. Metstrade has solid plans in place to run the show in November as an in-person, though hybrid, event. We have communicated that in the past months, and the message has triggered lots of new applications. There is a strong appetite within the industry to meet each other again.

Hughes: Face-to-face communication, networking across the industry, and the value of actually seeing and trying products in real time cannot be overemphasized. In these settings, we build relationships, share ideas and work together for the betterment of our industry. ICAST is the largest fishing tackle trade show in the world, and if you are in the fishing tackle business, you should be there. If you are not, you will be a full step behind your colleagues who came, interacted, shared, sold, promoted and networked for that entire week.

Show managers agree that sustainability measures such as digital ticket sales are important. 

Show managers agree that sustainability measures such as digital ticket sales are important. 

What have organizers learned from the first in-person events during the pandemic? What worked and what didn’t work?

Doole: For FLIBS last October, there was still a lot of concern. Nobody had received the Covid vaccination yet — the vaccinations hadn’t been released. But the new boats and brokerage boats that did participate had an exceptional show. There were a lot of buyers there. And that trend really continued as we worked with the city of St. Petersburg and West Palm Beach on the next two events [this past winter and spring]. When St. Pete ran in January, we had good attendance and a lot of boat sales. We’d moved that show from a late November timeframe. The exhibitors enjoyed the change of date. You weren’t fighting Santa Claus. You were after Christmas, after New Year’s. So date-wise, it was successful.

Hughes: The Orange County Convention Center in Orlando has already held more than 60 events since last summer. They know the safety precautions and are following all protocols to provide a safe and healthy environment. The exhibitors showing up are having success, meeting with their buyers and media, and discussing their products and the future. Events will improve when people step out of the comfort of their home offices and get back to doing business face-to-face.

Klarenbeek: Our convention center, RAI Amsterdam, has not been used for exhibitions since March, April last year, so quite a long time. We have had events, but those were virtual. The Dutch government teamed up with the Dutch events industry and did organize a series of in-person events. All attendees needed Covid-19 screening to gain access. However, trade events are a controlled environment and are much safer than gatherings in parks and cities, and other large gatherings.

The outdoors and on-the-water components of boat shows help to keep them safe events. 

The outdoors and on-the-water components of boat shows help to keep them safe events. 

What lessons did we learn about shows in the past year?

Dunbar: We learned even though most shows have embraced virtual events, nothing can replace the value of a live, face-to-face experience. Gathering in person matters and is critical for connection and commerce in every industry. People are eager to escape the “eat, sleep, Zoom, repeat” lifestyle. Zoom fatigue is real. Our customers — exhibitors and visitors — have made it very clear that they are eager to return to a live IBEX Show. Live shows will return with a vengeance and, in addition, many will offer year-round value and content to their constituents as yearlong, multiplatform conversations and experiences.

Doole: At the end of March, we ran the Palm Beach show, which was a little down on exhibitors, but mostly due to lack of inventory and lack of new boats and brokerage boats, because there’s been so many sold. But a lot of exhibitors enjoyed record sales at that show. I think people were excited to get out.

Hughes: Companies can live without trade shows for a year, maybe two, because their business is just so good right now. But Zoom or Teams calls do not replace relationship-building through face-to-face interaction or seeing and touching the breadth of products across a show floor, or allow for side conversations at the happy hour, bar or restaurant. Attending an in-person show is for those who want to come together, who see their businesses as bigger than themselves, and as an opportunity to gain market share at the same time.

Klarenbeek: We are looking forward to seeing international authorities working together on elementary things like vaccination passports and entry screening. Those elements would enable the meeting industry to be back to normal, swiftly. The key thing is, of course, confidence. And as soon as vaccination is here, there needs to be confidence that events can take place.

Thompson: We’ve tailored our shows for each market because, for example, what we need to accommodate within the Norwalk Boat Show, which is outdoors in a marina setting, is different from our National Boat Show or Chicago Boat Show in a convention center. With Covid, we know how things change by state/region/county/city. We’ve focused those plans, and we continue to fine-tune them as we talk to our facilities and the local authorities about what’s going on in every market. Norwalk [in September] will be NMMA’s first consumer event since March 2020.

The docks will bustle again this year at the Newport International Boat Show in September.

The docks will bustle again this year at the Newport International Boat Show in September.

How have the successes of virtual events changed the marine-business landscape?

Piffard: Virtual events were the answer/solution to staying afloat during Covid-19. There was no other way to sell other than online. Shows remain the best option for shopping around and comparing all in one location. Businesses can use a combination of both in-person and virtual. We need to feel that being together is safe again. The vaccine is certainly helping that.

Hughes: The success of virtual shows is relative. It is in the eye of the beholder because, like anything else, you get out of it what you put into it. Just like at a boat or fishing show — don’t just put up a booth and wait for people to come by. You need to promote, invest in the people and display, and have programs and product ready. The virtual or hybrid elements can enhance and bring more visibility to an in-person show, but not fully replace them. Virtual shows may not cost as much and may have more reach, but the value still does not replace in-person events. Companies have become savvy with their Zoom meetings, but it inhibits the personal touch of products, relationship-building and idea exchange.

Dunbar: Over the past year, we have relied on virtual components of our events to stay relevant. We have learned that online resources can supplement and enhance our education and networking, but that our attendees rely on an in-person experience to walk the exhibit halls and connect with new technology and innovation, meet with technical experts and industry partners, and have exclusive interviews with key members of the press — all impossible to do seamlessly from behind a computer screen. Virtual experiences lack the unexpected and serendipitous connections that make live events so powerful.

Our first virtual event, IBEX Online, back in September, drew more than 1,500 new visitors to IBEX, people who had never been able to attend the live show, and now they were able to connect with us because we were offering that option online. We will continue to serve this online IBEX community as well as our live visitors.

Klarenbeek: This year, for example, we’ll run a television studio from Metstrade, live from the show floor with a detailed program for the entire duration of the show, over three days, with content from our content partners. The studio will run live interviews from the show floor and live discussions with exhibitors and all of that.

The networking opportunities at trade shows such as IBEX are incomparible, even if masks are required. 

The networking opportunities at trade shows such as IBEX are incomparible, even if masks are required. 

In what ways can in-person events continue to sustain and grow?

Piffard: There is no comparison when it comes to the human connection. We grow with pertinent programming, useful content, lots of brands and fun on the waterfront. All of these things plus a positive and safe experience will keep people coming back. In-person events get boating enthusiasts excited to see what’s out there that’s new and innovative. Just because virtual sales worked doesn’t mean shows will go away.

Hughes: We need to always be asking the questions that address how we can provide more value and more ROI to the exhibitors and the attendees. We must ask them what they want and do our best to provide what they can’t get anywhere else. ICAST offers a look at more new fishing products than anywhere else in the world. ICAST offers the opportunity to meet and ask questions of the most important people in the fishing business. In the future, ICAST will offer more learning opportunities to improve your business and ensure the growth of the industry. Maybe most importantly is that ICAST offers a community you can’t reach anywhere else in the world.

The safety and well-being of attendees,  exhibitors and show staff are top priorities at in-person events. 

The safety and well-being of attendees, exhibitors and show staff are top priorities at in-person events. 

How will organizers enforce physical distancing and mask requirements, and otherwise ensure a safe and secure show?

Klarenbeek: We will comply with official guidelines or protocols that are in place at the time of the November Metstrade show. Currently, those guidelines are very strict, but the expectation is that some of these measures will be eased, or even lifted, as the number of vaccinations grows. The safety and well-being of all our attendees, exhibitors and staff is, of course, top priority. We currently have a comprehensive set of measures, like safety corridors, hand sanitizers, social distancing and all of that, in place. And communication of those measures is key.

Doole: Our AllSecure health and safety protocol is the master plan ( But we’ll work with each municipality that we’re in to see what their standards are, and work with those accordingly.

Hughes: If you aren’t comfortable being around people, don’t come. If you are vaccinated, have already had Covid, like to be around others who like to talk about fishing, then come. We are going to follow the suggestions of the city of Orlando and the Orange County Convention Center at the time and location of our event in July. We’ll provide proper signage and spacing, but if you haven’t learned about proper hand washing, social distancing or mask wearing yet, maybe you shouldn’t come.

Dunbar: The safety and security of the visitors and exhibitors is our No. 1 priority. We will follow the CDC’s guidelines, the state of Florida and City of Tampa safety plans, plus develop our own safety plan to ensure our visitors and exhibitors feel safe and secure. The situation is changing daily, so we intend to put safety protocols in place that are appropriate at the end of September when IBEX 2021 is scheduled to open. People will make their own decisions to attend or not. The Tampa Convention Center stands ready to host and is excited to welcome back guests and clients to their 600,000-square-foot facility.

Over the past several months, the center has implemented their TCC Ready campaign, which ensures all events are conducted in the most safe and responsible manner. In addition to the TCC Ready campaign, the convention center has also achieved Global Biorisk Advisory Council STAR accreditation, the gold standard for prepared facilities. Covid-19 is going to be around for a while, and we intend to be extremely proactive and continually consider new and better approaches to safety from now until opening day of IBEX 2021.

Piffard: Prior to the show opening, communication about safety protocols will be a must. We will have lots of signage with reminders, stickers on the grounds, show staff walking the sites, lots of sanitizer and extra cleanings throughout the site, ventilation in the tents, etc. People are used to social distancing and wearing a mask. If they forget their mask, we will provide one.

As show producers, we will follow all safety requirements to ensure a healthy environment for everyone. Exhibitors need to take their own precautions, also. It’s a team effort.

In addition to the boats, gear and accessories on display in one place, shows also celebrate the social aspects of the boating lifestyle.

In addition to the boats, gear and accessories on display in one place, shows also celebrate the social aspects of the boating lifestyle.

Will industry social events still be encouraged? Will most interaction be limited to the show floor, not after-hours events?

Hughes: Florida is open, and people can do what they want with their free time. Just as we don’t like others telling us what we can and cannot do, we don’t plan on telling others, either. People can be responsible for themselves. Those who want to get the vaccine are getting the vaccine. Those who want to wear masks will wear them. Those who want to travel will travel.

Doole: I would expect to see evening events again. One thing that we did in Fort Lauderdale, and that we carried through for Palm Beach also, was VIP access to the show, which got you into the show two hours early. And that was very popular with a lot of attendees. But we would expect there to be nighttime events at shows.

Piffard: It depends on the city and state protocols at the time of the event, but as of now we are planning for social gatherings after hours. The governor of Rhode Island announced that there will not be a cap on attendance at outdoor events by August.

Dunbar: Based on what happened at recent shows, where all social events went on as normal, I am confident that IBEX will continue to be very active both during show hours and after hours. Numerous parties are already scheduled, and we intend to have nightly post-show parties outside at the Sail Pavilion, including our opening night party. Again, based on what the situation is at that time is how we will define safety.


What about show conferences, press events and presentations with larger audiences? Will those continue?

Dunbar: Absolutely.

Hughes: Yes, of course. This is a moment in time. Some things may change forever, but people want to get back to business. I give the Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach shows a lot of credit for making the best of the situation and putting on quality events with one arm tied behind their collective backs. If we can only have 50 percent capacity in meeting spaces, so be it. But we will meet, and those who participate will be glad we did.

Piffard: We are planning on all of those, even if there are limitations. We will utilize as much outdoor space as we can for any and all events.

Klarenbeek: Renowned conferences like The Dame Design Awards and The Boat Builder Awards are an integral part of Metstrade. They are managed easily in terms of safety because those are seated events. So together with our partners and stakeholders, we will continue to look into the best possible ways to run these events. But I’m confident that those will happen.

In terms of press conferences, etc., we have a spacious convention center. So there will be plenty of opportunities to run them safely. Those are integral elements of any show, and we’re confident we’ll make it happen.

The Bay Bridge Boat Show in Maryland had sold-out attendance in April, a sign that boaters are eager to see what’s new in the industry this year. 

The Bay Bridge Boat Show in Maryland had sold-out attendance in April, a sign that boaters are eager to see what’s new in the industry this year. 

What are some of the requirements and requests that exhibitors want?

Thompson: Initial questions were how to best plan booth space for social distancing, and what our facilities and our teams would provide as far as common-space cleaning and making sure hot touch points and distancing were enforced. And then, within their own space, they wanted to know what they needed to be responsible for. Exhibitors also wanted to know about attendance and anything that might impact attendance, such as limited-capacity requirements.

Dunbar: To be honest, there are not many concerns thanks to the aggressive vaccine rollout. We will have a safety protocol in place, and people will make their own decisions. We expect anyone who is vaccinated will be at IBEX, as usual.

Hughes: Most are just happy that we are having a show and looking forward to getting back together. Some ask if they have to wear a mask. Most don’t ask anything and just want to know what the rules are. The main reason that those from the U.S. aren’t coming is not because of Covid. They aren’t coming because their business is so good that they can’t service or provide enough product to their current customers.

Piffard: The top-of-mind concern for many is whether they will get their money back if the show is canceled last-minute. Which is a very fair concern.

Klarenbeek: Generally speaking, there is overwhelming confidence in the measures we will take. Our clients know that we will not run a show against all odds, but only if it can be held safely and successfully. The early-bird deadline expired on the first of May, and the latest reports are we’re seeing lots of new applications coming in. But what are they asking for? Our clients know that apart from the venue, our control is limited. So they have questions on safety and well-being in terms of public transport during their stay in Amsterdam. We get lots of practical questions like what to do during their time in the city.

In-person boat shows this year and next will follow federal, state and local health-and-safety guidelines. 

In-person boat shows this year and next will follow federal, state and local health-and-safety guidelines. 

How much communication do you have with health and government agencies?

Dunbar: We are in constant contact with the city of Tampa, which owns the Tampa Convention Center. Florida is very much open for business, and we know they are already holding events at the TCC. And as mentioned, the TCC has GBAC STAR Accreditation. They have let us know they are more than ready for IBEX to return after successfully hosting the Super Bowl.

Doole: In the case of Fort Lauderdale, the emergency orders ceased, so now we will be working again with the city of Fort Lauderdale on Covid-19 safety restrictions. And then with all of the other agencies — police departments, fire departments — we engage with those in every show city.

Hughes: ASA and the ICAST team are working very closely with Visit Orlando and the Orange County Convention Center. The convention center leadership and staff regularly update their health and safety protocols. They have a complete and thorough understanding of the concerns, needs and effort needed to properly protect their audiences and provide the necessary information for a safe and successful event. They have rules, and we will follow them.

Klarenbeek: We’ve teamed up with the authorities, the city of Amsterdam, Schiphol Airport, the Amsterdam hotels. We communicate advice on how one could maximize safety during their stay in Amsterdam. Closer to the show, we will run a communication program to make sure that you will be having the safest experience during your stay in Amsterdam.

Thompson: We’ll continue to follow any guidelines issued at the federal, state and local levels just to determine the types of organized gatherings that make sense within the show environment.

Piffard: We communicate with city of Newport officials on a continuous basis. We submitted very detailed show plans to both the city and the state’s Department of Business Regulation, and we got the green light from both. We monitor the state’s website, which is constantly updated with reopening information and protocols.

In what new ways are sustainability measures becoming an integral part of shows?

Doole: Tickets and credentials have shifted away from paper to digital. You could buy a ticket at the kiosk at the show. We are trying to be as paperless as possible, I think that’s what you’ll see going forward.

Dunbar: IBEX is committed to being a proactive leader in sharing ideas, information and solutions on how the marine industry can be more environmentally responsible. We will do this by adding sustainable topics and practices to our on-site and online education, as well as implementing our own standards for sustainability within the Tampa Convention Center, and through our service providers, who have outlined new waste and sustainability practices.

Klarenbeek: Metstrade has been on the forefront of advocating sustainability in the leisure marine industry for many years. We have already made significant steps, such as reusable turnkey booths, minimizing plastics and in our catering departments. We use green electricity, and there are solar panels on the roof of the RAI Amsterdam convention center. In terms of sustainability, that’s a focus of the Dame Design Awards — it’s a tradition that the application fees to the Dame Design Awards go to a charity, and this year’s charity is the Blue Marine Foundation ( Reducing paper and registering digitally — those are already part of the program we run.

Piffard: The Clean Ocean Project and other organizations will be at the Newport show to educate on community cleanup programs, how to recycle properly, reducing plastics — plus the introduction of new electric boats and engines is an exciting element at the show.

Any other thoughts?

Hughes: If there is/was a positive outcome regarding Covid-19, it’s that more Americans went fishing than ever before. The new and returning anglers took advantage of more time near their home with friends and family to enjoy the fishing experience. Shows give us the opportunity to share the successes, exchange experiences and educate the industry on how to retain and build on their relationships with new and returning anglers. ICAST allows us to celebrate the past year and set the course for the future to continue encouraging people to fish, thereby growing our market and our businesses.

Piffard: So many new boaters makes it exciting for the industry. Retaining them will be our new job. Shows can provide a place for educating and training boaters so that everyone is safe on the water.

Klarenbeek: We have seen a boom in demand for boating, not only in the U.S., but also in other major markets, like Europe, Oceania, Asia. The challenge is to keep up the momentum and make sure that this growing demand for recreational boating will be sustained over longer periods of time, in sustainable ways. There is also a large demand to meet in person because of all of the disruptive supply-chain issues that exhibitors and boatbuilders have. They really look forward to Metstrade as a platform where they can discuss these challenges, and even overcome some of the obstacles. After a year of Zoom meetings and Microsoft Teams and all of the virtual sessions, there’s a huge appetite for in-person meetings.

The Metstrade team is committed to delivering a safe and successful show this year. We are heavily dependent on external factors, not least related to the vaccination strategies all over Europe and multiple nations. We are very optimistic about that, and together with the great and loyal support in the industry, we foresee that the industry will be able to meet in November.

Thompson: I’ve been in this industry with NMMA for 22 years this June. So I have a lot of friends out there that I’ve missed, for sure. 



July 20 - 23: ICAST, Orange County Convention Center

September 16 - 19: Newport International Boat Show

September 23 - 26: Norwalk Boat Show, Norwalk Cove Marina, Conn.

September 28 - 30: IBEX, Tampa Convention Center

October 27 - 31: Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show

November 16 - 18: Metstrade, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

January 12 - 16, 2022: Chicago Boat Show, McCormick Place

January 13 - 16: St. Louis Boat and Sportshow, America’s Center and the Dome

January 13 - 16: St. Petersburg Power and Sailboat Show

January 20 -23: Minneapolis Boat Show, Minneapolis Convention Center

January 20 - 23: Nashville Boat Show, Music City Center

January 26 - 30: Louisville Boat, RV, and Sportshow, Kentucky Expo­sition Center

January 26 - 30: New York Boat Show, Javitts Center

February 16 - 20: Miami Boat Show

March 2 - 6: Atlantic City Boat Show, Atlantic City Convention Center

March 24 - 27: Palm Beach International Boat Show

For a more complete calendar of boat shows, go to

This article was originally published in the June 2021 issue.



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