By Greg Carannante
City & Shore Magazine
When the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show makes its 62nd annual appearance Oct. 27-31, it won’t be resting on its laurels as one of 2020’s few, big pandemic-be-damned events.
After last year’s scaled-down version at Bahia Mar Yachting Center, the world’s largest in-water boat show is plowing ahead with a full lineup that features a couple of first-time, high-profile collaborations. One even caters to landlubbers — Fort Lauderdale’s first Concours event, showcasing classic cars and collector sneakers.
“Last year the boat show was the only big event in any industry that took place across the country and we did it safely. So that in itself is a huge feat,” says Phil Purcell, CEO/president of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, which owns the show. Attendance was only down about 20 percent, organizers say.
“We were able to host the show with temperature checks, masking, social distancing and sanitation,” he says. “So we’ll take all those best practices again — whatever we need to do to keep everyone safe.”
Purcell says the show typically draws 100,000 people over the five days — 50 percent from Florida, 40 percent domestic and 10 percent European. Working with federal guidelines on travel, he says, “we’re working through the hurdles that may exist to allow people outside the country to travel here safely and attend the show and be exhibitors and/or buyers.”
“This year,” Purcell says, “it’ll hopefully be the kickoff to all the boat shows resuming their schedules again.”
The Concours event, in addition to vintage autos and collectible footwear, will present a sunset-kissed showcase of fine art, fashion, live music, cocktails and canapés on the rooftop of the Las Olas Parking Garage at the Intracoastal from 5-10 p.m. Oct. 29. Tickets are $150.
“It’s an event that will attract another audience to the show and introduce them to the lifestyle of boating,” Purcell says.
Another first-time event is one that he says goes “where the yachts go.”
“We’re partnering with Bermuda to co-host an event on how we can both use our destinations to help each other,” says Purcell, adding that the opening-night destination presentation echoes past collaborations with the Bahamas and the Caribbean.
“We are excited to welcome back the global community of visitors and exhibitors,” says Andrew Doole, president of U.S. Boat Shows with Informa Markets, which produces the Fort Lauderdale event. Pandemic-related travel restrictions diluted the international flavor of last year’s show.
In addition to its usual global appeal, the boat show is known for presenting more debuts of world-class products than any other such show in the country — and that will undoubtedly be the case this year as the boating industry rides a cresting wave of consumer demand. Purcell attributes it in part to the pandemic.
“During the pandemic, the industry saw a 35-40 percent increase in business,” he says. “Because it’s an outdoor thing, people flock to boating.”
Sales figures back him up. More than 310,000 new powerboats were sold in 2020, an increase the recreational boating industry has not seen since before 2008, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
In deference to the pandemic, the boat show continues to promise a safe, open-air experience — over 80 percent of the show takes place in outdoor spaces. Among the highlights:
FLIBS Superyacht Village: an exposition of the world’s most spectacular superyachts and exhibits, including renowned shipyards, personal submarines and exotic collectible automotive items.
Windward VIP Club: an exclusive, indoor-outdoor setting for doing the show in style, featuring shore and water views with a premium open bar and gourmet food offerings. One-day tickets are $300.
AquaZone: an engaging attraction designed to give show-goers an upfront, personal experience with a variety of water sports and innovative marine products.
Hook the Future: a variety of fishing clinics tailored to youngsters ages 4-16, as Capt. Don Dingman offers interactive instruction in tackle and lures, casting a rod and reel, reeling in a fish and fishing ethics.
One-day tickets to the boat show are $37 (adults), $15 (children ages 6-15) and $57 (Prime Time Preview). Two-day adult tickets are $63. Children under 6 are free.
For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit www.flibs.com
PHOTOS: Courtesy Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.