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South Florida boat show attendance falls, but sales rise

By: By Toluse Olorunnipa, Miami Herald

From The Miami Herald

At the Miami International Boat Show & Strictly Sail Miami, an emphasis on affordability, exhibitors' slashed prices and a pent-up demand for boats did not manifest in increased attendance. About 91,415 people attended this year's show, down 5.5 percent from last year and off nearly 10 percent from pre-show predictions.

But in a bit of good news for a struggling industry, those who showed up were more prone to buy a boat than last year, said Cathy Rick-Joule, vice president of the southern show division of National Marine Manufacturer's Association, which produces the show.

"The difference between this year and last year, is that this year, people were ready to buy," she said. "Last year, people were still really in the looking mode and not willing to make a purchase, but this year, the ability to get funding has improved, people's desire and confidence has improved. They were certainly here buying, which is not what we'd been seeing."

Retailers of boating accessories, clothes and fishing gear were reporting sales increases of 20 to 30 percent, Rick-Joule said. The Affordability Pavilion, a collection of 17 boats that could be financed at a rate of less than $250 per month, also saw increased interest this year.

Sales totals were not immediately available, but the show, which ended Monday, featured fewer exhibitors and watercraft, as well as a 20 percent decrease in exhibition space compared with last year.

The Yacht & Brokerage Show in Miami Beach, which also ran from Feb. 11 to 15, featured a scaled-back lineup of boats as well, as many yachting companies have gone bankrupt in the past two years.

Loren Schweizer, a Fort Lauderdale yacht broker who has attended the show every year for two decades, said he was able to peruse the entire collection of yachts in one day, a sign that the number of yachts and the density of foot traffic were both significantly down from years past.

"Normally, it takes at least two days," he said. "If you count the number of boats on sale this year, compared to last year, I'm going to say conservatively, it was down 30 percent," he said.

Skip Zimbalist, CEO of Show Management, said snowstorms in the Northeast kept many potential buyers away during the show's first two days, when year-over-year attendance was down 15 percent. Things improved toward the end of the show's five-day run, but overall attendance was still down by 10 percent, which affected sales negatively.

Other categories fared better, and sales were up among fishing boats and medium-size yachts, Zimbalist said.

The two shows, often seen as a bellwether for the boating industry, left mixed results for industry experts to mull over in the weeks leading up to South Florida's next major boat show in West Palm Beach, running from March 25 to 28.

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