Despite hurricane, IBEX shows its strength

MIAMI BEACH – While Hurricane Wilma won’t make landfall in Florida until after IBEX 2005 closes its doors today, the 15th Annual International Boatbuilders Exhibition and Conference has been disrupted by rumors and a growing concern regarding the slow-moving storm.

The show floor has been humming with rumors of the approaching storm since it became the strongest Atlantic-basin hurricane on record overnight Tuesday. Early predictions that had Wilma making landfall in Florida as early as Saturday a.m. failed to materialize. Wilma’s impact was felt, however, as organizers made the decision to close the show two hours earlier than scheduled. This, after Florida Governor Jeb Bush issued a state of emergency.

The impact on the show reached further than just the show hours, according to National Marine Manufacturers Association President Thom Dammrich.

“I think the hurricane kept some people away,” he commented in an interview late Thursday. “And others didn’t stay as long. Once you change plans, you’re not going to change them again. But despite some light traffic on the show floor, the quality was tremendous.”

Impact of timing hard to evaluate

IBEX was originally expected to break attendance records, due in part to advance registrations that were triple that of the prior year.

That suggested that the timing of the show, which this year began more than a week before the start of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, may have had a positive influence. However, with the impact of Hurricane Wilma, we’ll never know, said Dammrich.

The dates gave the relatively small number of exhibitors planning to take part in both events time to move their booth – a bonus for them. But many attendees of both shows found it necessary to take separate trips, unlike last year. Whether this would have impacted attendance is unclear, but preregistration numbers suggest the strength of the show would have boosted overall participation in the end.

While show organizers NMMA and Professional BoatBuilder magazine would love for IBEX to take place over the same dates every year, that isn’t expected to happen over the next five years, he indicated. Next year, the show will take place after the Fort Lauderdale show.

Ultimately, IBEX has become so important to suppliers and boat builders that the dates are not critical as long as they take place “within a critical window in the fall,” according to Dammrich.

The show goes on

Despite the distraction that Wilma may have caused, many exhibitors reported their time at IBEX was well spent.

Mercury Marine executives, for example, who told Boating Industry magazine on Tuesday that the company has made a recommitment to IBEX, said Thursday evening that it already considers the show a success.

David Bledsoe, with Paulson Computer Systems, said he hasn’t experienced the disruptions some have talked about.

“We’ve been doing this show since its beginning, it has grown more and more, and even though it is tailored to the boat builder we’re seeing more and more dealers,” Paulson said. “Traffic has been very good. Those people that are here for business are here for business.”

Magnus Johansson, Industry Manager Marine Europe, Ashland Composite Polymers, believes traffic at his company’s booth may even have been higher than he’s seen in the past.

“It’s a little bit more, maybe,” he said.

Meanwhile, as the show closed on Thursday, Hurricane Wilma’s impact on the marine industry looked only to be a threat to the Fort Lauderdale show. Forecasters, as we send this newsletter, predict the storm to weaken significantly – perhaps to a Category 2 – and to make landfall on the west coast of Florida sometime Sunday night or early Monday morning. As it gains speed, predictions say, it could progress well out into the Atlantic by Tuesday, the day prior to the FLIBS opening.

The Florida Keys are set to begin mandatory evacuations Friday, and show organizers hope that the 2 p.m. closing of the IBEX show floor will provide ample time for exhibitors to tear down and vacate the Miami Beach Convention Center.

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