Thursday, 7 May 2009

Boating in the Doldrums

Many were a bit surprised to see two boat shows in London around Christmas.

The Whyte and Mackay boat show at Earls Court in December 2008 was followed by the London International Boat Show at ExCel in January 2009, only a month later.

Ironically, the London International Boat Show originally started at Earls Court in 1957, but was moved to the ExCel Exhibition Centre at its location in the Docklands, in 2004.

It has now been announced that the Earls Court show won't be staged again this year.

Not surprisingly, the boating industry is struggling a little due to the recession.

Rising costs, coupled with insecurity in consumer employment has taken its toll on boating.

Its quite hard to get a clear picture of the UK marine industry as figures are not widely available.

Although hire boat firms are reporting increased bookings, you only have to look at the number of inland waterway boatbuilders shutting up shop to form an opinion.

I am aware of several well known boat builders who have shut up shop this year, plus a number of others who have reduced their staff.

For the first time in many years, many marinas have spaces instead of waiting lists.

Sales of secondhand boats in brokerages seem to be static unless they are artificially stimulated by keen pricing.

James Brooke, MD of the Sail Power & Watersports Show said in the online magazine "Boating Business" that the show won’t run this year. He stated that he'll run a new show, the "British Leisure Show" in February/March 2010  at the Windsor Racecourse, near the Thames.

He also intends to run a marine-based show at Earls Court in November 2010. 

The British Leisure Show, says Mr Brooke, will incorporate an extensive range of products from all leisure sectors, including marine, outdoor leisure, country pursuits, classic & sports cars, bikes, caravan & camping, health & fitness, extreme sports, aviation and British tourism, and many more.

Presumerably, this will be a competitor for the National Boat Caravan and Outdoor Show, to be held at the NEC in Birmingham in February 2010.

Exhibition organisers are the same in all industries, all over the world. They are in business to organise exhibitions. I don't suppose they care too much about the industries concerned, providing there is enough demand to make the show pay.

They sell stand space to the trade and they sell tickets to the public - they win at both ends.

I have often wondered, when working at exhibitions, why we are paying to sell our products to visitors, when the visitors are also paying to be entertained.

In the early stages, organisers often like to tell prospective exhibitors how many of their competitors have already booked space or shown interest. I presume they imagine that the fear of being excluded from the salesfest, will convince exhibitors to sign up.

At the end of the day, its simply supply and demand. 

If there isn't sufficient demand for exhibitions due to the economic downturn, then the supply will have to decrease to maintain the balance. That means, less shows.

It will be interesting to see how the Crick Boat Show fares later this month. The show, which bills itself as the UK's premier inland waterways event has suffered a couple of bad years, once due to problems caused by a local fire and then again last year, by strong winds.

The show is jointly organised by British Waterways and the company, Richmond Event Management and will be held on the Bank Holiday Weekend (23-25th May 2009).

A few years ago in Shanghai, the company I was working with at the time, couldn't understand why Chinese consumers were queueing to collect their sales literature. They anticipated record sales following the show, but the demand never materialised.

It was several months later that they discovered that these "consumers" were actually taking the expensive glossy paper used in the brochures and selling it to willing buyers at Chinese paper merchants. They were literally selling the brochures by the Kilo. 

If the recession gets worse, it could be a good money-earning idea at Crick !! 

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