Despite a drop in attendance general mood positive
The London Boat Show 2014 drew to a close on Sunday with 88,593 visitors attending across the nine-day event held in the heart of London’s Docklands, a drop compared to the 93,327 passing through the turnstiles in 2013.
Over 400 exhibitors used this year’s show as a platform to display their products, with nine world debuts and 19 European and UK launches taking place.
After a slow start the show seemed to gather momentum from the middle Wednesday, after the relentless storms that had lashed the southern UK through Christmas and the New Year finally relented and travel was made that bit easier. Not surprisingly the early January 4 start proved unpopular with many exhibitors, but that said business was done with close to 20,000 making the trip to Docklands on that first weekend. Sunseeker MD Stewart McIntyre told IBI he had been “pleasantly surprised” by the quality of business over the first weekend for a show that would by close prove to be the UK boatbuilder’s best London for three years. One day after the show Sunseeker had already confirmed orders had been taken throughout the whole range, including deals signed for a 28m and a 40m Yacht.
Fellow UK builder Fairline, which launched its new Targa 48 Gran Turismo, was another to voice concern over the early Jan 4 start – unavoidable this year according to organiser National Boat Shows, the dates being the only way it could secure the single South Hall layout deemed preferable by exhibitors (the show will return to a slot a week later next year) – with CEO Kevin Gaskell claiming potential clients were still on their winter skiing breaks. By end of play, however, early gripes had been forgotten it seemed with sales director James Robinson claiming “excellent” sales with the final total due to exceed 2013, further extending its forward order book into late 2014 for some models.
Show numbers inevitably took a dip on the opening Monday and Tuesday – the aisles were quiet, bringing home the reality that business in the boating sector remains a considerable challenge.
It was left to Olympian and now America’s Cup winner Sir Ben Ainslie to sprinkle some of his magic dust on the event with hundreds turning up to see him and fellow Olympian Paul Goodison and their Ben Ainslie Racing Teammate Matt Cornwall, all on hand for the announcement that JP Morgan Asset management would continue as headline sponsor of the Round the Island Race. The spike in attendance on that Wednesday morning gave the show the shot in the arm it needed – the optimism carrying through to the last weekend that registered around 32,000 visitors.
“The trend at London 2014 was for big boat enquiries and sales, which were definitely up on 2013,” Princess Yachts’ communications director Carl Richardson told IBI, adding that interest was also high for its entry level 43 and V39, with sales across both models.
“The stand was busy the whole week, but the early start did have an effect on the first weekend,” he went on to say. “There was definitely an uplift of people from Wednesday, and the last weekend was very busy. From a UK perspective, the 43 is a new boat but it is starting to deliver with a very considered group of buyers in the UK. The other boat that stood out at LBS was the 56 which continues to do well since its 2012 launch.”
The London show and its organiser NBS has drawn considerable flack over recent years over its handling of the show. Bar the offering of the ‘big three’ UK builders, there continues to be a worrying lack of boats on display, notably of the sail variety, with swathes of show floor continuing to be given over to garden furniture and hot tub displays. There was also confusion this year over the press day – some events being held on the first Saturday, others on the Monday. NBS will have to plump for one to avoid confusion next year.
Despite the drop in visitor attendance the show does appear to be turning a corner, however, with the majority of those exhibitors canvassed by IBI relatively happy, reflecting perhaps the changing fortunes and growing optimism of the domestic industry. Given the promised later January start to the event for 2015, and no macro-economic alarms or surprises to derail confidence, one would expect the 61st edition of the show to continue on its ascendant curve.