The show goes on in Fort Lauderdale

By David Gee Big boats, big crowd, big show, big bucks. Sold out. Unprecedented demand. Historic backlogs. Customer boats standing in as show boats. Eight miles of walking the docks. That was Day 2 of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show with the Boating Industry team.

The day began in a slightly unusual fashion for me. I was invited to interview the Bahamas Minister of Tourism, Investments and Aviation, Deputy Prime Minister, the Honourable I. Chester Cooper, as he came to the boat show to talk up boating in the Bahamas.

In a word, he said, “we’re back.” Okay, that’s two words, but that was the message. For an island who derives 50% of their GDP from tourism, the devastation of Hurricane Dorian, followed by a global pandemic, hit the Bahamas hard.

But he said that the Caribbean is bouncing back faster than any other destination in the world, and the Bahamas is leading the way.

Of course we talked about COVID, and the easing of travel restrictions, but we also talked about new developments, such as the newly enlarged marina on Walker’s Cay.

The Deputy Prime Minister also thanked the boating community, particularly in South Florida, for the way it came together in the wake of the hurricane to bolster relief efforts.

And as a boater himself, he reminded us that the Bahamas is not just one island, but a large group, from Grand Bahama Island to the Out Islands, such as Abaco, Andros and The Exumas, lying only 50 nautical miles from Florida’s east coast.

I had lunch with some marketers from the boat manufacturing side, and we traded story ideas for Boating Industry, and then walked the docks for a while to check out some newer boats we hadn’t seen in person. Of particular interest to me is some of the new trawler offerings, as I have the Great Loop on my bucket list. There are lots of details to sort out between now and that trip though!

I attended some press events in the afternoon, although there were definitely fewer of those this year than in 2019. I left out 2020 since that was an obviously smaller show in the middle of the pandemic and doesn’t count, although our Adam Quandt did attend the show.

When you first get to the show on Wednesday, you kind of think the crowds are the way they are going to be every day. But as soon as you step off the water taxi to enter the show on Thursday, you can tell the crowds have swelled. There is a line to get on nearly every boat. And then Friday is just that much more crowded, and then comes the weekend. They are expecting 100,000, as compared to say 2019’s 130,000, but that’s still a lot of people.

As for when production might align with demand, Brunswick CEO David Foulkes appeared on Thursday’s episode of “Mad Money,” after the boat maker reported its latest quarterly results. And he had an answer, or at least a highly educated guest.

“Raw demand is tremendously strong,” said Foulkes, stating something that is not news to any of us. “What we’re really seeing is constrained supply. Even though we’re increasing capacity, because field inventories are so low, it’s probably going to be three years before we really get field inventories back to where they should be.”

Okay. And I’m going back to where I should be. Climbing on boats, of all types, large and small. Next stop, ELEVATE! Hope to see many of you in Atlanta on November 8.

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