Boat shows are back and drawing big crowds amid robust demand

Queen of the Show from the Orlando Boat Show.

Source: Marine Industry Association of Central Florida (MIACF)

Boat shows are back!

For both new and avid boaters, boat shows are one of the most important ways customers connect with the boat market. Last year, many events were canceled by the pandemic and organizers turned to online platforms instead. However, personal events are experiencing a revival, giving visitors the opportunity to discover a variety of boat types, sizes, brands, and additional equipment.

As the boat shows return, organizers find they are attracting more than expected crowds. The trend could reflect the strong demand for boats that the industry has seen over the past year. In 2020, boat, ship product and service sales hit a 13-year high of $ 47 billion as people flocked to the water to safely enjoy the outdoors.

The Orlando Boat Show held a personal indoor event earlier this month after a year-long hiatus due to Covid concerns. The event, attended by 21 dealers and more than 70 manufacturers, drew the largest crowd in a decade. According to a press release, attendance increased 66% compared to the event in 2019.

David Ray, executive director of the Central Florida Marine Industry Association, which hosted the event, said the group was stunned by its success as it expected a 20% to 25% decline in 2019.

“This was the best show we’ve ever had,” said Glenn Adams, the yacht and ship broker for Boat Max USA, who attended the event. “We were expecting fewer visitors than our first show in a showroom in over a year, but this was not the case.”

The event had over 500 boats to choose from, and sales at the event exceeded dealer expectations, Ray said. He wouldn’t reveal any specific sales data.

15 shows are scheduled to take place this year, only two of which are virtual, including the Seattle Boat Show, according to DiscoverBoating.com.

The Seattle Boat Show took place in January with 218 business partners. The four day online event consisted of live and recorded seminars on boating and fishing. Usually their personal shows showed over 1,000 boats while their virtual event could only show around 600.

More than 5,200 households have paid to take part in the online show. By comparison, the 2020 in-person event drew more than 45,000 people.

George Harris, president and CEO of the Northwest Marine Trade Association, the organizer of the event, said virtual events will never replace the experience of a personal boat show.

“A boat is an emotional purchase for people. They want to see it, they want to touch it, they want to smell it,” Harris said in an interview. He said he hoped they could hold a face-to-face event next year.

The National Marine Manufacturer’s Association, the largest boat show manufacturer in the country, has canceled its winter and spring shows this year due to the pandemic. However, most of their shows took place last year before Covid hit in March, association spokeswoman Sarah Salvatori told CNBC in an email.

The boat show season usually takes place in the fall and winter to prepare boaters for the high season in the warmer months of spring and summer.

In a research report, Jefferies analyst Randal Konik said recent channel checks showed that consumer appetite for boats remains high. Traders are pledging to buy inventory and internet traffic trends are still growing faster than they were before the pandemic.

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