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Boat Shows: Too many? Too few? Or just right?

Has the pandemic caused lasting change or will the market revert to type where boat shows are concerned?

Following the total shutout of boat shows in 2020, 2021 represented the first time the superyacht market was able to gather at shows once again, albeit in a limited capacity. By contrast, 2022 will be the first year since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that the industry will have the opportunity to return to the full boat show calendar in earnest, but will it?

Even in the pre-pandemic era questions were beginning to be raised about how congested the annual boat show programme had become. The established boat shows remained steadfast and as emerging yachting economies sort to grow their domestic markets they copy and pasted the model implemented by the established locations with various degrees of success. The net result was a boat show schedule that raised increasingly pressing questions about cost, value, return on investment and environmental impact.

The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to change nearly everything about our lives. It changed the way we interacted with friends, family and loved ones, it changed the way businesses operated, it changed the way children were educated, and it changed the way we travelled.

Every business was impacted and this was perhaps no more telling within the superyacht industry than the complete collapse of the superyacht events programme in 2020. Shipyards, for instance, were able to keep building, albeit with various protocols in place and with limited numbers of craftspeople. Brokers were able to keep selling and designers were able to keep creating. Boat Shows, however, ground to a complete halt.

This unprecedented period of grounding provided the market’s key stakeholders ample opportunity to reflect on spending, travel and technology. In the months that followed, the ‘Zoom boom’ proved to many that digital communication was at a sufficiently high level to negate the need for excessive travel and many found that they had ample financial resources available to them given that their typical marketing avenues, most notably the boat shows, were no longer an option. What followed was a period of realignment and reallocation of resources, with many choosing to focus on technology and consultancy, leading some to question the veracity of the boat show model. How do you view the boat show model? The below survey should take around one minute to complete and is completely anonymous, have your say.

What the pandemic proved, however, is that people and businesses are incredibly resilient and adaptable, to the point where some had begun to question the need for an office, face-to-face meetings or boat shows. That being said, as soon as the world opened back up, the industry at large quickly realised how much it had missed boat shows and general contact. We are, at the end of the day, a hyper-social market and the lies we told ourselves to make isolation more bearable were quickly forgotten. If proof is in the pudding, the successful return of Cannes, Monaco Yacht Show and The Superyacht Forum Live in 2021 provided sustenance for all. Booming core sectors and a burning desire to network and enjoy the market within which we work soon put to bed the notion that the boat show model was outdated. 

However, questions remained over whether or not it was desirable to return to the frantic pre-pandemic schedule and, in truth, we will not know where the market stands until several boat shows are under our belts and the industry has made its commitments clear. At the top end of 2022, many major stakeholders have been clear that they are reassessing their events schedule, whilst remaining guarded at this point as to which events they will be committing to, which they will only be attending in a limited capacity and those that they consider being surplus to requirements. The excellent new build, brokerage and charter figures from 2021 suggest that boat shows do not necessarily have the direct impact on sales that many had previously claimed, but are sales the only metric by which we should value boat shows or are they an indelible part of yachting’s history, future and allure?

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Is the boat show model sufficient or is it in need of change?

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