The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, which opened today, will be a very different event than in previous years. With Covid-19 prompting just about every major global boat show to cancel—from the Cannes and Monaco shows in September, to Annapolis this month and Dubai in November—FLIBS is an anomaly. In its 61-year history, despite hurricanes, heat waves and other natural challenges, it has never been canceled.
While the number of exhibits will be reduced—the Superyacht Village was canceled because many executives of European shipyards and superyacht crews would have to quarantine for weeks—it will still be the world’s largest in-water boat show, with multiple sites. But with many exhibitors and attendees deciding to pass this year as new coronavirus cases rise, FLIBS promises to be a condensed version of last year.
Still, the show must go on, and FLIBS has a history of pushing through, even when times are tough. When Hurricane Wilma devastated South Florida in 2005, leaving the show site in ruins, the organizers opened on time, albeit in a much rougher form than usual. “It looked like someone had thrown a bomb into the site,” said Andrew Doole, president of US boat shows for Informa Markets. “Still, we pushed ahead.”
In his opening remarks this morning at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Doole called FLIBS the “new Safety First Boat Show Experience,” and said that four general categories had guided the organizers: Cleaning and Hygiene Countermeasures, Physical Distancing, Protection and Detection, and Communication.
Doole, discussing this year’s show with Robb Report, remains upbeat about the potential for FLIBS. Below, he outlines the precautions Informa has taken to ensure FLIBS will remain as Covid-safe for participants as possible.
RR: With so many other high-profile events being canceled, why did you decide it was safe to go ahead with FLIBS 2020?
AD: Since the inception of the pandemic last spring, we’ve been focused on creating a plan that would ensure everyone who attends the show can do so safely and with confidence. That plan raises the bar on health and safety, and ensures the safety of our guests.
What are some of your key health and safety initiatives?
We’ve created AllSecure standards that focus on deep cleaning before, during and after each day’s events, hand-washing and hand-sanitizing stations throughout the show space, and overnight disinfection. We’ve been working closely with GBAC—the Global Biorisk Advisory Council—to develop these deep-clean standards and we’ll be rigorously implementing them.
When someone arrives at the show, what’s going to be different?
It should be easier to get in. We’re laying on more buses and water taxis, with reduced occupancy and constant sanitizing. There’ll be more entrances—16 instead of the usual 11. And no paper tickets; your ticket will be on your phone. At each entrance there’ll be temperature scanning. Not individually, but using technology that can pick out anyone in line who’s running a temperature.
What’s your policy on face masks?
Broward County has issued orders requiring everyone wears a mask in all indoor and outdoor public spaces. All our staff will be wearing face masks, and we expect the same of exhibitor staff. We’re requiring our guests do the same.
How about social distancing?
We’re making that a little easier by widening the docks by up to 10 feet in the busiest places. That means walkways by the Bahia Mar entrance, for example, will be up to 30 feet wide. In the exhibition tents, we are widening the aisles and adding directional markers for one-way walking. All seating in the cafes, VIP lounges, concession areas and cocktail barges, will be set up to social distancing guidelines.
Last year you had over 100,000 visitors over the five days. What’s your crystal ball telling you about this year’s show?
If you remember, last year’s attendance was down because of the heatwave that hit us during the show. Yes, attendance this year will inevitably be down, simply because fewer overseas guests will come because of travel restrictions.
You’ve canceled the Superyacht Village this year. Why?
Many European superyacht owners and crews were reluctant to travel to the US and then have to go through tough quarantine requirements when they returned. It was a tough decision, but there was too much uncertainty. We’ll have no shortage of superyachts at the show, but they’ll be on display on the central Bahia Mar docks.
What’s your advice for visitors looking to plan ahead for the show?
If someone has a particular boat they want to see, make an appointment. Manufacturers and brokers will be allowing fewer people on boats, so don’t risk not being able to get aboard. Also, wear a face mask; manufacturers and brokers will be requiring them for the safety of their staff.
What do you say to people who predict that because of Covid-19, this year’s show will be a shadow of its former self?
We’re working tirelessly to ensure FLIBS continues its tradition of being the pinnacle of all nautical exhibitions. We’ll still have more than 500 boats in-water, have more than 50 superyachts on display, and more than 20 boats making their world debuts. No one is going to be disappointed.
The 2020 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show runs through Sunday, November 1.