Fort Lauderdale show up in the air

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Despite the unexpectedly severe damage wreaked on South Florida by Hurricane Wilma, the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show (FLIBS) may be going forward, opening on Saturday, Oct. 29, as announced late last week.

Or it may not.

Exhibitor Taylor Made Systems told Boating Industry magazine in an interview today that while the show sites are in “pretty bad shape,” organizers have informed them that clean-up was being started today, tents would go up over the next 24 hours, exhibitors would be able to move in displays on Thursday and set-up is scheduled for Friday, with a Saturday morning opening.

This is two days later than originally scheduled and would make the show one day shorter than its typical five-day rein, but with rumors flying around that the show will be canceled, it represents good news for all concerned … if it ultimately comes true.

A call made to show producer Yachting Promotions Inc. this morning revealed that the show “has been postponed until further notice,” suggesting the possibility that FLIBS may be postponed later than Saturday … or may not take place this year at all. Rumors are that it could be rescheduled to take place in the spring.

During a late morning call, show staff said they hadn’t heard of the possibility of the show being cancelled altogether. Damage assessment is taking place now, the staff member stated, and a determination regarding the timing of the opening will be made and available to the industry tonight or tomorrow morning.

Among the many issues to be considered is whether FLIBS can obtain the necessary power to run the show, which covers more than 3 million square feet of exhibit space, both on land and in water. Electricity is out for a record 3.2 million of Florida Power & Light Co.’s customers – and the outages are concentrated in South Florida. Broward County alone is reporting 862,800 customers without power, and estimates are that it could take as long as four weeks to restore power to all Floridians affected.

Another factor to consider is the condition of the hotels that normally house both the exhibitors and the many visitors attending from outside the immediate area. Initial reports are that both the Sheraton Yankee Clipper and Radisson Bahia Mar Hotel were damaged by the hurricane.

A third consideration is whether the show, if held this month, would generate anywhere near its typical attendance. As Taylor Made Systems’ Mike Oathout put it, “Obviously, the people in the Fort Lauderdale area have other issues to consider at this point.”

The vice president of sales & marketing also pointed out that many of the OEM attendees that usually visit exhibitors may be absent.

“Some people flat out canceled the entire trip,” he said.

At stake for the marine industry is about $600 million in sales. At least that’s how much is typically sold at FLIBS. Even if the show does open sometime over the next week, attendance – and sales – will likely be much lighter than in years past. With many predicting a flat or down year ahead for the boating industry, that’s not good news.

“Right now, I don’t think our industry can take many light shows,” Oathout concluded.

However, industry leaders suggest that one industry show – even one of North America’s largest – won’t make or break the industry this year.

“The loss of any boat show is unfortunate for all of us, but the industry has proven to be resilient in all cases and it could overcome the loss of the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show if that were to happen,” said Dustan E. McCoy, president of the Brunswick Boat Group.

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