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Boat Shows, no Boat Shows?

by Suzy Rayment, Asia Yacht Press 10 Oct 01:46 UTC
Hong Kong Yacht Show © Hong Kong Yacht Show

Numerous boat shows around the world have been cancelled this year, and probably rightly so. Given the travel restrictions and social distancing measures that need to be in place, boat show organisers have had little option but to ‘bite the bullet’ and postpone or cancel, whist praying that things will turn around for the better next year.

First show to be postponed was the Singapore Yacht Show in April, quickly followed Sanctuary Cove Boat (Australia), the Japan Boat Show and the Palm Beach International Yacht Show (USA) which was one of the first shows to go ‘virtual’. Next to fall were the big European shows; Cannes Yacht Festival, Monaco Yacht Show and METS (Europe’s biggest trade show) all having to cancel, along with Southampton Boat Show (UK) which finally had to pull the plug just 48hrs before the start.

Andy Treadwell, founder of the Singapore Yacht Show (SYS) says, “With all the pandemonium in the global boat show industry this year, many organisers in Europe and America have turned to virtual events rather than try to stage a postponed physical show in risky conditions. There have been many excellent webinars and ‘virtual boat tours’, and I expect that in a post-Covid-19 world, we will be seeing many more hybrid events, especially in the conference sector. However, here in Asia, our industry is still so new and so small that the shows really need to be fully ‘experiential’ for potential boat buyers. That’s why we want to put on a ‘proper’ show for exhibitors where they are able to demonstrate the true boating lifestyle.” Treadwell is hopeful that the worst of the pandemic will have passed in time for the 10th anniversary of SYS will be held from the 22 to 25 April 2021.

Agreeing with Andy Treadwell, Ewa Stachurska, Group Marketing and Strategic Partnerships Manager for Simpson Marine, says that “customer experience, especially for new buyers and the less experienced boat owners in Asia, demands a ‘live’ Boat Show. Meeting prospective customers is an important ‘touch point’. This is when you find out what they are interested in - by the questions they ask, and their reactions to the boats they are viewing.”

Simpson Marine has adapted to the ‘new normal’ by running their own virtual boat shows, and presenting the latest models and stock that were meant to be on display at the boat shows that didn’t materialise. “We have held a number of private viewings, both in Hong Kong and Thailand, and we have been able to provide clients with virtual tours of yachts and shipyards, but you can never replicate the onboard experience. It’s important for people to experience first-hand the joys of sailing, or staying overnight on a yacht in a secluded bay. It’s these experiences that will win their hearts, and encourage new owners to join the ever-growing boating community.”

BASCO Boating, an online platform, is perfectly positioned to fill the vacuum that has been created. Experienced boating professionals Dione and William Schick saw a gap in the market three years ago, seeking to educate and advise an emerging boating community in Asia. “William is an experienced broker, and I have the marketing background,” says Dione. “Together we have made huge strides with our digital transformation, and this month we are launching the first ever Boat Buyer Expo (10-11 October 2020). “Our online boat auctions have been running since early 2019, but now seemed the perfect time to invite the industry to participate. Over 30 industry experts will come together to share their most impactful guidance and techniques for living the boating lifestyle!”

Dione was inspired to create the boat mentoring programme, as she felt this something that the first-time boat buyer desperately needed. “So much of the traditional boating industry is sell, sell, sell and that can lead to the new buyer feeling more like a pay cheque than a person. New boat buyers need advice and education as there are endless choices, and finding the right boat for the right budget is a much more complicated process than people realise. That is precisely why the Boat Buyer Expo was created.”

Says Treadwell “Here in Asia, there has recently been a huge surge of interest in being able to get away from it all, with just close friends and family for company, on a “floating island” - boating is suddenly on everyone’s radar. That’s why we believe the three Asia shows we are organising in Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong, all of which are fully supported by most of the key brands, are going to do a great job of connecting buyers to sellers - even if the events this year, and maybe even next year, are on a slightly smaller and more local scale that would normally be the case.”

Nigel Beatty, Chairman of the Asia-Pacific Superyacht Association, is not over convinced that virtual boat shows are the answer. "I have ‘attended’ a number of virtual yacht/boat shows this year but it’s just not the same. The physical presence of being at a yacht show, the spontaneity of bumping into industry colleagues and meeting new people, going for an impromptu lunch or a beer, discovering and forging new business, is something that cannot be replicated online or in any other format other than a physical yacht show. This goes for yacht owners as well as yacht industry persons.

Although the pandemic is real, I think the concept of a ‘New Normal’ is nonsense. Once the pandemic is over, I believe we will be settling back into the old routine. Although this time has forced us to look at the way we operate, and opened our eyes to how we can conduct many of aspects of our business more efficiently, I think we will soon be back enjoying the vibrance of enjoying a physical yacht show."

Australian publisher Hillary Buckman, Founder of Ocean Magazine and the Great Southern Route Superyacht Destination Guide says, “With the cancellations of most boat shows this year, many companies are looking at other ways to grow their database, educate potential owners of their products, and of course the possibility of entertaining them at exclusive events. From what I have seen so far of virtual boat shows, yes, the system communicates with potential owners. But personally, I don’t see this replacing boat shows in the near future. Let’s not forgot, owners do love boat shows. They enjoy wandering around a show, comparing the different models in one area, being able to touch and feel the interiors. Then they do some more homework online, through magazines or one-on-one boat test at a later time. Yes, there will be some owners who have never liked boat shows, and would rather send their boat captain to ‘take a look’, but I know many more who love the one-stop-shop for boats, fabric, tenders, clothing and of course the never-ending parties.”

Although the boating business landscape has changed, and virtual is king for the time being, people still like to party - and some of the best parties are on boats! Undoubtedly, boat shows are here to stay, and they are an important part of the boating scene for the industry and boat owners alike.

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