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Boat Shows evolve to meet the market and deliver for exhibitors

by Jeni Bone on 16 Oct 2011
Razzle Dazzle: Model and sportswoman Jodie Kidd officially opened the 2011 Tullett Prebon London International Boat Show. onEdition © http://www.onEdition.com
Competing against a myriad of different forces – from the football to the internet, extra work hours and ferrying kids about between activities – boat shows the world over are coming to realise they have to change in order to appeal to families, professionals, couples and these days, exhibitors who are weighing up ROI for each and every dollar spent on marketing.

Boat Shows rate just behind in-dealership experience and the internet as the leading contributor to influence boat buying. But as everybody knows, and NMMA research attests, there is nothing like a boat show for the best range, opportunity for product comparison and a great price –which coincidentally, ranks as firm favourite reason for attending a boat show . . . to get a bargain!

According to IFBSO insight, consumers attend boat shows for a variety of reasons. The top reason consumers attend a boat show is to view new boat models (54%). 37% went to compare prices, 28% said their purpose was to specifically shop for a boat, and 4% went to the show to view or purchase boat engines or accessories.

Attendance figures alone cannot be used to gauge the success of a boat show. Analysts and IFBSO are unanimous that numbers through the doors are just one facet of a boat show, secondary to sales during the show and exhibitor satisfaction with the quality of leads for follow up post-event.

More and more, marketing boat shows is about casting the widest net possible. Significantly, NMMA research shows that among those who were highly influenced by a boat show in their most recent purchase, 40% went for entertainment value or fun, and 33% said they go every year.

Over the past few years, the Tullett Prebon London International Boat Show faced flagging attendance and feedback from exhibitors that the show could do with a revamp.

'They reported a good overall experience but needed the ‘wow’,' said Murray Ellis, Managing Director of National Boat Shows in the UK. 'People said they wanted the Show to move away from being like a trade show. They wanted more boats, attractions and on-water activity, more interactivity, and above all, they wanted it to be ‘spectacular, relevant, child-friendly and educational’.'

By adding features such as high-action watersports in the aptly named 'Action Pool', media hype and buzz created a broad appeal and that elusive ‘wow’ factor.

From post-show research, 75% of the visitors interacted with the pool, which was positioned in a prominent spot right at the front of the entrance to the show.

Other additions or improvements included a new layout for the 2011 show, adding the London Bike Show and The Outdoors Show who share a similar demographic.

The show injected interactivity, relevance and education with a model boat pool, Knowledge Box presentations, fashion and automotive launches. Top model, high profile motoring journo and equestrian, Jodie Kidd was the host of the official launch which went off with plenty of pizzazz and stars from TV’s X Favtor, garnering f headlines in mainstream news, fashion and lifestyle media, and placing the event in the minds of new markets beyond traditional boating crowd.

'Delivering more attractions' and 'ensuring everyone offers a good customer experience' at the show level were also important to driving word of mouth referral from people who attended.

According to organisers, the results speak for themselves. 'We reversed the decline in attendance with a 7% increase from 2010, with 109,778 people attending,' said Ellis. 'And with co-location the total attendance was 140,164 visitors.'

Better still, 28% of the audience was new, visitors said they loved the Show, all attractions scored well in post-show survey, there was an improved 'Mystery Shopper' result (people planted to test exhibitors for their attentiveness), press coverage was positive. In short, the wow was back!'

From a sales perspective, the increase in sales of watersports equipment was significant, thousands of visitors were looking to buy a boat at Show/post Show, 50% of used boats were sold and more back at the brokerage, over 50% of visitors changed their mind on which product to buy when they got to the show and the exhibitors on the boardwalk and used boat marina said they will be coming back next year, with more boats.

Among visitors, 75% rated their overall experience as good or excellent, 67% are definitely/possibly returning and 88% may recommend to friends and family.



In Germany, Boot Dusseldorf too realised it could do nothing to change the circumstances impacting on boat shows around the world – which it identified as 'a global crisis in the water sports market, change in recreational and consumer behaviour, a subtle withdrawal of the younger generation from water sports – especially in the recreational boating sector, and aging trade fair visitors'.

During the year between its 2010 and 2011 shows, Boot Düsseldorf 'reinvented itself'.

The event changed its format and image from a traditional trade fair for water sports to a worldwide leading spectacle for maritime sports and lifestyle.

As its motto, the show embraced as its ethos: 'All people who have a high affinity for water as a means of recreation prospectively belong in our target group.'

The show organisers took a strategic approach, investing heavily in the 2011 event, 'thought inclusively and had the courage to take charge and move forward with enthusiasm'.

'There are always negative comments. Without enthusiasm, confidence and the courage to make changes, you can‘t move forward!' they said in their literature supporting the show revamp.

The relaunch aimed to capture the imaginations of industry and the public alike. Among their initiatives were: new logo and branding, new ad campaign, relaunch of website, greater relations with media and industry, new programming to achieve a balance between technical info for professionals and entertainment for the general public, added focus on popular water sports with opportunities for visitors to try it out themselves, an d a new communications strategy which focused on a few topics in key areas, using traditional and lifestyle media.



In spite of extreme market conditions, Boot Düsseldorf experienced an increase in number of visitors, greater PR coverage, 'an enlightened spirit' within the industry and positive feedback from various target groups.

In Australia, the Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show has been a major regional event for 23 years. Like the majority of boat shows, its numbers hit their peak a few years ago.

'The media tends to focus on numbers through the gate, while exhibitors are more concerned about strong sales, leads and the international networking opportunities available at the boat show,' says Sanctuary Cove General Manager Events and Marketing, Sue Thomson. 'Both are important to a boat show, but selling boats and increasing trade are the priorities.'

As for evolution, the Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show has well and truly come of age and enhanced its offering with an array of initiatives to draw more of the relevant market and newcomers to the event.

'In 2011,we added the ‘Women on Water’ program which included a lunch with guest Carla Demaria, President of Monte Carlo Yachts, High Tea on the High Seas, cooking and interiors seminars, as well as Skipper Training Sessions. These proved immensely popular and attracted many new visitors to the show, while not straying from the boating lifestyle theme.'

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