Can Boat Shows ride out credit crunch storm?

Crowds at London Boat Show in 2007

The Boat Show season gets into full swing as a series of major events open across Europe. The Barcelona show opens this weekend, 9 November, followed by Athens on the 15 November and METS opens in Amsterdam on the18 November.

All will be closely watched for signs of any cutback in attendance and more importantly in order levels - Are the crowds buying or just looking? As the Credit Crunch storm continues to gather pace.


In the UK, where two shows now vie for attention, making three in all with the summer Southampton show. The first will be the Sail, Power & Watersports Show at the traditional Earls Court venue at the end of November, followed straight after the New Year by the London Boat Show at the newer ExCel venue.

With the Credit crunch hitting the high street shops and big-ticket items such as cars struggling to maintain market share and profitability, all eyes will be on these events to gauge the likely health of the boating industry over the coming year.

The US and recently Europe have seen a string of company closures and retrenchment in the face of falling order books. Conflicting signals are being seen with general uncertainty as to just how hard the developing recession will prove to be.

Raymarine, the UK-based marine electronics firm warned that like-for-like sales for the nine months ended September 30, 2008 were down by 8.5 per cent compared to the same time last year and that since then a 'rapid deterioration' in its markets. And stated that recently there had been indications by boat builders around the world that they will be building significantly fewer boats both this year and in 2009.

But, Germany's largest yard, Bavaria Yachtbau under new CEO Andres Cardenas, are bucking the downward trend, and has announced its intention to increase production to 3,000 units a year in a bold anti-cyclic move in economically difficult times. Bavaria will expand their product portfolio and hit the market with new boats. Sixty per cent of the production will be sailing yachts and 40 per cent powerboats.

Not such upbeat news for Germany's third-largest yacht builder, Dehler Yachts. The goverment of the German state of NorthRhine-Westfalia has offered a bank guarantee to keep them afloat. Only last January, Dehler was expanding when it acquired the Belgian Etap yard.

In contrast to the mainly contraction news from the US, Palmer Johnson Yachts indicated that it would be expanding its US facilities into other parts of Wisconsin and neighbouring Michigan. The company said that it has quadrupled production in the past three years and that its current facilities were operating at maximum capacity. Palmer Johnson has also announced plans to build a new facility at the former VT shipyard in Southampton, UK, to service the European market.

The UK’s Select Yacht Group Ltd of Wadebridge in Cornwall, has not been so lucky. The company builds and sells Cornish Crabbers and Shrimpers, as well as the British Hunter Link 30, has gone into voluntary liquidation.

Managing Director Frank Colam claimed that the Inland Revenue came in and demanded money instantly, forcing the liquidation move. The British Hunter Link 30, which made its show debut at the Southampton show this summer, attracted a lot of interest but the financial climate meant that those interested were playing safe. 'Southampton was awful,' said Colam. 'Interest in the Link 30 was huge but a lot of potential buyers were looking to sell first.'

And that could be the silver lining for the customer with cash in his pocket. There will be bargains to be had, shifting product the name of the game. I doubt that the stands at Earls Court will be festooned with - Sale/Everything Must Go - signs but some sharp deals will be available and Christmas could be a little early this year.


The Sail, Power & Watersports Show at Earls Court opens on Wednesday 26 November and runs until Sunday 30 November 2008.

The London International Boat Show returns to ExCeL from 9 to 18 January 2009.
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