An opportunity to modernise?
The pandemic has provided boat show organisers with an unprecedented opportunity to review their practices…
When I was growing up, I used to always love going to Palma boat show, seeing all the boats and walking around the stands. It was a great time to spend with family and friends and I never took anything more than a positive outlook away from any time I had spent there. The first time I began to harbour judgement however, was Dusseldorf boat show in 2017. My first thought when I walked in was ‘Wow, how do they get all these boats in here?’, And it was at that moment the initial sense of awe washed away to be replaced by a more critical analysis of the scale of what was happening behind the scenes to showcase these spectacles.
For many, boat shows are a hotly-anticipated occasion, while for others, it’s a laborious event which stakeholders in the industry feel obliged to take part in, in order to show face, remain relevant and maintain social networks. However, after surviving the pandemic, these same stakeholders are rightly questioning the necessity of the many aspects of working life that were previously accepted as the norm.
Imagine for a moment, if all the companies that paid thousands of pounds for a stand at a boat show, invested that money into a more direct form of marketing, or ensuring customer loyalty. The amount of money that gets disregarded in the superyacht industry is almost unfathomable and incomparable to other industries operating in the luxury market. Would stripping these events from our calendar allow businesses to be leaner and more efficient?
I feel that this is the general consensus among most people who take part in these shows. One superyacht broker, who claims to have visited almost every boat show in the last 20 years, told SuperyachtNews, “To put it very frankly with you, it’s all a load of b*llocks. I have never sold a boat at a boat show. That’s not the right way to sell a boat. If you have the money to buy a yacht you want to feel unique, you don’t want to be herded into a big warehouse somewhere and walk around a boat with a load of other people.”
The figures tell us that the absence of boat shows hasn’t affected the market; last year, 213 superyachts were sold. And all things considered, that’s not a bad year, when the 5-year average is 228. The pandemic has jolted the business world into a state of critical self-awareness that is now coming to terms with the absurdity of its habits.
Kiran Haslam, chief marketing officer at Princess Yachts, recently shared his views on boat shows and the role they play: “I think we need to go outside of our sphere of comfort, we need to move away from boat shows and start taking boats into the real world, you know, and not be this tiny little closed club.” The sense of exclusivity and community that comes with being in the yachting world is an important marketing tool, but it can also narrow the perspective and make us forget about the ‘real world’, as Haslam put it.
Being just 22-years-old means that I do have limited experience of the industry, and so I have restrained my views in a bid to allow them to evolve and adapt as the experiences of these events do so. There is no doubt that a lot of business is done at these shows and people are able to share some innovative ideas. But to my knowledge, nothing is being done to contextualise the frame of mind that the best innovators and entrepreneurs share in a post pandemic world.
Haslam explained with conviction how, “Those guys drive those pylons in to make that marina for three-and-a-half weeks so they can run their boat show and destroy some of the most important seagrass beds responsible for nurturing life, at the most inopportune moment. They’re held at the worst point of the calendar year and wreaking havoc on all these marine animals such as pipe fish, seahorses and small fry when they are at a critical stage of development.”
Haslam told me of the sense of tragic irony he felt after a boat show where he had spent a week pioneering sustainable efforts. “I’m standing there watching people roll up carpet, which was down for five days and now going into landfill; it’s just such a crazy idea. We have got to do things better.”
The legitimacy of intentions for the overwhelming majority of people I have met in the superyacht world are honest and genuine. I believe these events are useful and normally more beneficial than detrimental, but there is a growing number of trailblazers, such as Mr Haslam, who are very eager to revolutionise old habits. There is enormous scope for boat show organisers to implement new forward thinking initiatives, and year after year we bear witness to incremental changes. However, now that industry leaders are voicing their true opinions, it begs the question, is it time we had an honest conversation about boat shows?
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