Visitors to the 2020 Palm Beach International Boat Show will not be able to detect a whiff of freshly cured resin or hear pennants flapping in the breeze, but they will have at least one opportunity boat show attendees don’t usually get: Without taking a single step, they can find all the new products and all the on-site deals the show has to offer gathered in one place. That’s because the organizers will have a virtual boat show.
“We’re still formulating ideas, but we’re really emphasizing the customer,” says George Gentile, president of the Marine Industries Association of Palm Beach County, which owns the show. “We’re trying to engage the community.”
The effort is part of the show’s move online. When coronavirus-inspired lockdowns hit Florida, organizers moved the event from late March to May 14, hoping the new dates would allow them to operate a live show. As it became clear that mid-May wouldn’t provide a safe haven, show management opted for a virtual version to launch on that same day.
“We want to offer something of value to reward all the exhibitors for their efforts and the people who usually come and to keep the show alive,” says Andrew Doole, president of Informa Markets’ US Boat Shows, which organizes the Palm Beach show. “We’re trying to get as much content as possible. We want to make it fun. People go to boat shows because it’s fun.”
One of, and probably the largest online virtual boat show, PBIBS will feature $1.2 billion worth of yachts, accessories and water toys, courtesy of 436 exhibitors. Organizers also plan to include an as-yet undetermined number of new-product introductions.
The heart of the online event will be virtual booths, in which visitors can take video boat tours, participate in chats with manufacturers and brokers, and explore financing. All will be searchable by boatbuilder, boat type, size, price or model.
A “Stage” section will include seminars and shows that include fishing presentations (including ones for kids), superyacht sessions, center console chats and panel discussions, among others. A “Shopping” area will house all the usual land-based exhibitors, from engine companies to clothing manufacturers.
“We’re getting a lot of participation,” says Doole. “We’ve had companies that weren’t even slated to be in the show asking to be included.”
PBIBS, though, will stick with its original exhibitor line-up, and every company, even if it doesn’t opt to host a booth, will be listed on a roster with a live link to put interested shoppers in direct contact.
A string of smaller online shows by brokers and dealer networks, including Burgess Yachts, Denison Yacht Sales, and MarineMax, have gotten considerable virtual traffic, proving that shut-in buyers will most definitely show up for an online walkthrough or two.
Last year’s live Palm Beach show attracted 53,000 attendees, and while the virtual version does not allow shoppers to touch and feel the boats, the online show will be available globally, which may draw even more eyeballs in the end. After all, the show will launch on May 14, but it will remain available until next year’s show, giving it a long life.
Admittance is free. No sun screen needed, but bring your own cocktail.