By Adam Quandt
Except a few shows in the beginning of the year, 2020 has been full of cancellation after cancellation when it has come to boat shows and events, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold across the nation.
Even as cancellation’s of shows, both big and small, local and international, the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show organizers — the Marine Industries Association of South Florida and Informa — consistently shared a message of charging forward with new safety measures in place.
“The health and safety of our staff, exhibitors, visitors, and community remains our number one priority,” Andrew Doole, president of Informa Markets U.S. Boat Shows said in July. “We also recognize the importance of our boat shows to the local and state economy and the marine industry at large. Since the inception of the pandemic, we have been focused on a plan that prioritizes safety and an exceptional visitor experience, so that every person who attends our events can do so safely and with confidence.”
To move forward with one of the largest boat shows in the world in the midst of a global pandemic, FLIBS organizers introduced its AllSecure approach to health and safety of all events. From enhanced cleaning — including undergoing deep cleaning before, during and after each day’s events — following Global Biorisk Advisory Council standards to mask requirements and thermal scanners, and much more, organizers made sure to cover every safety base necessary for a safe event.
Though shorter than our usual stay and certainly with a different experience, Boating Industry made the trek from our Minneapolis, Minn. headquarters down to Fort Lauderdale for the 61st edition of the annual boat show.
Compared to previous years, the 2020 show did indeed seem quite empty across the docks, with attendance picking up heading into the weekend portion of the five-day show, running from Oct. 28 through Nov. 1.
The show, typically spread across various locations like the Broward County Convention Center and the Superyacht Village, was limited to the singular in-water and land display surrounding Bahia Mar. However, despite the downed size, FLIBS was the debut stage for over 20 new models including Pursuit’s new S 428, Viking’s 54 Convertible, Robalo’s R360 and the Beneteau Antares 11.
Despite the small show and pandemic circumstances, organizers reported that overall attendance was only down about 20%, when compared to 2019 numbers. And even with fewer attendees, exhibitors reported that those that were in attendance were there to buy and early sales reports certainly back that up.
“This year’s show was a testament to the pent-up demand to get out on the water drawing quality buyers ready to purchase and anxious to get outdoors to see new product and meet with brokers, manufacturers and marine suppliers they have not been able to meet with this year. As boating has gained popularity since March with record-setting boat sales in the U.S., early reports from FLIBS’ exhibitors show the continued trend, with many reporting numerous sales, quality buyers and new prospects,” show organizers said at the conclusion of the 2020 event.
“FLIBS 2020 will be one show that none of us in the marine industry will ever forget - and not just because of the masks and the hand sanitizer - but also the busy docks, the contracts that came in when nobody expected it, and an overwhelming sense of community,” added Bob Denison of Denison Yachting. “Our brokers, marketing team, and support staff all had a fun and safe boat show. We sold more boats and yachts than we expected. From day one to day five, the docks were buzzing. The show made life here in South Florida feel sort of normal again. As a local kid, I don’t remember an October here in Fort Lauderdale without the boat show. The entire Denison family is grateful that the show took place. Not only was it a good event for the city at large, it was meaningful to thousands of small business like ours.”
Even with numerous qualified safety measures in place, much of the safety of attendees and exhibitors alike remains in their own hands during these times of required mask wearing and social distancing. However, during much of our time at the 2020 edition of FLIBS, we witnessed a plethora of attendees either not wearing their mask properly or not at all, as well as walking crowded docks should to shoulder.
While the majority of 2020 and early 2021 boat shows have already been cancelled, the enforcement of health and safety measures will continue to be the point of question as the pandemic continues across the U.S., as boat shows make a cautious return.