It’s been a tough year for the businesses of the world. There was no precedent for the COVID-19 pandemic and no instruction manual on what to do. With the rapid shutdown of all public venues (sporting events, concerts, religious gatherings, even restaurants), it was no surprise when the boat shows of the world followed suit. If you’ve never been to a boat show, you should know that there is no better place to start (and finish) your search for a boat. It’s a great event for networking with like-minded mariners. There are hundreds of builders and suppliers from around the world, all in one place for two or more crazy days. One by one they were cancelled, all with an optimistic outlook and a promise that they would be back, better than ever, in 2021.
But at least one show took those sour lemons and made lemonade.
For the first time in its 35-year history, the Palm Beach International Boat Show — one of the five biggest in the U.S. — was facing cancellation. But with teamwork and innovative technology, the show ran as planned in May. It moved off the docks and onto digital screens, reinventing itself as an ongoing virtual show. They maintained all 450 exhibitors, who quickly created video walk-throughs, educational videos and web-seminars led by industry experts. They also featured “Docks”, which was a series of virtual boat tours and product demonstrations, as well as “Stage”, a series of seminars and fishing presentations.
“The support from the marine community has been remarkable,” said Andrew Doole, president of Informa Markets’ U.S. Boat Shows, “And the feedback from our participants has proven that there is a clear interest in the virtual boat show experience, as well as a pent-up demand for boating.”
The show has pulled in 15,000 subscribers so far and anticipates the upward trend in sales will continue. This virtual show opens up boating to new audiences and creates a new desire for boating and life on the water.
One of the great head-scratching ironies of the pandemic has been that, although it shut down most recreational activities, the demand for boats and boat-sharing clubs has gone through the roof. “Boating provides families with a restorative way to escape and enjoy the water while social distancing responsibly,” said Vicky Yu, Director of Business Intelligence at National Marine Manufacturers Association.
I’m in the market for a new boat and it has been shocking how difficult it is to locate a good match for me and my family. Good boats are hard to find; even when they’re available, they sell quickly. It’s counterintuitive, but despite the recession, people are buying a lot of boats. “I’ve never seen a buying frenzy like this,” marveled one boat dealer in a recent industry survey.