(Editor’s note: this story has been updated from its original version)
Attendance at the 2013 Seattle Boat Show was down over last year, but there are reports that the event drew solid numbers of what exhibitors were most hoping for — buyers.
Slightly more than 46,800 people attended the indoor portion of the show at CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle, 2.6 percent drop from last year.
Numbers at the outdoor portion of the show on Seattle’s Lake Union, which typically draws fewer visitors, dropped by more than 19 percent, to around 12,900. The Northwest Yacht Brokers Association, which puts on the outdoor part of the show, could not be reached for comment.
George Harris, president of the Northwest Marine Trade Association, which produces the indoor part of the show, attributed the drop in attendance to the NMTA not offering free parking with online ticket purchases as it had done for 12 years. Instead, free parking was offered only for purchases of four or more e-tickets.
But Harris said despite the lower numbers, there were sales at the show across a broader variety of categories. Exhibitors reported sales of everything from large boats to electronics and accessories, he said.
“In terms of sales, we exceeded expectations for the majority of the businesses that were there,” Harris said. “I think that after the last five years of just slogging through the recession, boaters showed up with a renewed interest in boating and maintaining their boats.”
Robbie Robinson, owner of Signature Yachts, said the show exceeded his expectations. The company took deposits on several boats, he said, declining to provide specifics.
“We had a great show,” Robinson said. “We’re absolutely delighted.”
Robinson said that overall, buyers were well-informed and had done their research beforehand. And most understood that the deep discounts many dealers were offering during the recession in an effort to move inventory were no more, he said.
“There was nobody saying, ‘We’re going to come back and buy it cheaper next year. These are people who have been waiting a long time [to buy a boat].”
John Rothermel, vice president of sales for Fisheries Supply, said the company had slighter higher sales at the show than last year and noted a higher level of excitement among attendees than in recent years.
“I feel like the mood was better,” he said. “Maybe we ignore the negative if there is any, but I saw no negative.
“Everybody was in a great mood. They wanted to be there. We were so busy the whole show.”
The 10-day show, which ran Jan. 25 through Feb. 3, differed from previous years in other ways, too. Over the past few years, the NMTA has tried various approaches in an effort to attract showgoers, from VIP opening nights to a contest in which contestants stood on wakeboards around the clock for a chance to win a new boat.
This year, the NMTA organized wine tasting on the show’s opening night and beer tasting another evening, with tasting stations set up around CenturyLink event center. There were aerial performances each day and a new, larger lounge area serving drinks and food. And unlike previous years, when drinking was restricted to the lounge area except on opening night, showgoers were free to roam the show with a glass of beer or wine in hand.
Harris thinks the additional events and the change in rules helped create a more festive atmosphere at this year’s show and said the wine and beer tasting will likely be included again next year.
“I think it’s so important to have enjoyable activities at the show in addition to all of the products and services that are on display,” he said.
“The boating community here in the Northwest is really special, and creating an atmosphere where boaters of all types can come in and spend a little extra time is really important. I think we did that.”
The success of the show is immediately difficult to gauge. For many exhibitors, it’s an opportunity to put products and services in front of customers and generate leads that could result in sales weeks or even months later. But a recent uptick in economic indicators including job growth and consumer confidence are providing encouragement that the region’s long-suffering marine industry is finally on the rebound.
“I think it’s definitely turned around,” Rothermel said. “It’s been a long time coming, believe me, but it’s turning around and getting better.”