TOO MANY BOAT SHOWS! That’s a phrase we’ve heard over and over again, ever since we’ve been involved with the boating industry. Yet now a move is afoot to hold a second London boat show, at Earls Court, just over one month before the ExCeL event!
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Does it make sense? BYM News correspondents visited three recent boat shows, in three countries; Barcelona, Spain, London, UK and Toronto, Canada and found three very different types of exhibition and three sets of very different reactions from vistors and exhibitors.

Aldous Grenville-Crowther was hard pushed to find a dissenting visitor voice at Barcelona, but exhibitors were less forthcoming. No-one said “It’s been a bad show”, but no-one said “It’s been phenomenal for business.”

London was another story. BYM News reporter Tom Walsh still regards ExCeL as an enigma. Despite free drink vouchers being pressed upon people at tube stations and two for the price of one offers being e-mailed before the final weekend, attendance was down. Exhibitor enthusiasm wasn’t though, with many reporting record sales at the show, which left us asking ourselves “What is meant by sold at the show?”

Toronto was yet another story, BYM News’ reporter there, Carina Prakke, described it as having a “Hey, honey, let’s grab the kids and go boating” feel, with the added bonus of great distractions and lots of chandlery bargains.

Toronto sounds very much like the London Boat Show, in Earls Court days - there’s even an indoor on water section - so will the plan for an ExCeL rival work?

The BMF’s Marketing Manager, James Gower, thinks not, pointing out that other start up shows; at Earls Court, in 2004, and Portsmouth, in 2002, had failed to get support .

James Brooke, co-founder of the new Earls Court show, told BYM News that they have been overwhelmed by industry interest and received over 100 enquiries, within 5 days of announcing the show.

Gower told BYM News, that industry struggles with shows and it was industry opinion that resulted in the move from Earls Court to ExCeL, in 2004. Gower cited dwindling attendances and the logistical problems of getting exhibits into a central London venue, as two reasons for an overwhelming vote, by exhibitors, to move the show to ExCeL in 2004. He added “Industry is now confused by the message of two shows.”

James Brooke, co-founder of the new Earls Court show, says that the event is getting into partnership with Earls Court to tackle any issues that exhibitors felt were a problem in the past and make the logistical side a success.

Asked about ExCeL attendance, Gower emphatically denied rumours that tickets had been given away, on the streets, and said that the two tickets for the price of one offer was a Daily Mail promotion.  Free beer was, he said, something that had always happened, going back to Earls Court days.

Brooke aims to get visitors to the Earls Court show by “Putting the show back into boat show.” This includes having Christmas decorations in the halls and Santa Claus, to make it “magical for children”.

Both men acknowledge that not every boat show visitor is a serious buyer. As Gower says “Some people are there just looking at boats in general, some go with a preconceived idea of buying a particular boat, for some its  just an afternoon out.”

Gower says the BMF knows it is getting it right, because they interviewed 2000 people and “results indicate that ExCeL is a popular show.” He added “We would consider more general attractions, at the show, because these are popular with the public.”

Brooke points out that family members may not all share a passion for boating, or watersports and says that the Earls Court show will have something to entertain the whole family, so that an enthusiast can spend his, or her, time visiting stands, leaving a less interested partner, or child, with something enjoyable to see and do.

Where exhibitors are concerned, Gower said the BMF was delighted with the good feedback from ExCeL, which he described as “A very, very successful boat show.” He quoted Sunseeker as saying it was its best ever show and said thatFairline was also very happy with the result.
Brooke believes that the timing of the Earls Court event will ensure good results for exhibitors, pointing out that it will be an ideal venue to buy Christmas presents, such as chandlery, clothing, dinghies, watersports equipment and water toys.

Gower summed the situation up by saying “There is no need for an extra show in London, especially given its closeness to the flagship London Boat Show at ExCeL and what would be a clash with the Paris Boat Show.”

Brooke said that the prime aim of the Earls Court show was to generate sales for exhibitors and has pledged to “provide sales support and listen to exhibitors’ requests before, during and after the event.’

WILL THERE BE A WINNER?

There is no doubt that many boaters do have nostalgic feelings about the old Earls Court Boat Show, but will that drive sufficient numbers of exhibitors and visitors there?

Tom Walsh said of the 2006 ExCeL show “As a show, it lacked ... well show.” This year he ended his report with “You get a feeling that it’s getting better as a day out, but it’s got a way to go yet.” If that’s right, then Brooke’s plan to “Put the show back into boat show” could bring in the visitors.

Brooke says that the price of Earls Court stands is based on feed back from industry, so it is not impossible that BOTH shows will be winners.

One can visualise Earls Court packed with visitors looking for Christmas presents and browsing around small cruisers, runabouts, narrow boats and other craft that are rather more affordable than luxury yachts, costing millions.

On the other hand, London IS the financial capital of Europe, which makes it an attractive place to show off very expensive boats. ExCeL is unlikely to rival shows, like Monaco, and become a must for megayacht brokers, but it might attract even more builders and sellers of large yachts and even more serious buyers, if the “lesser” craft decamped to Earls Court and left ExCeL with a certain aura of exclusivity.

James Brooke and John Vincent met through a shared passion for sailing, which led to a vision of reviving the Earls Court boat show.

Their leading partner, which Brooke describes as “something quite special, embodying the passion, history and nostalgia for Earl’s Court” was named - at a press conference - on Monday, January 29, as Whyte and Mackay.