Half the duration, more diverse and with a whole new co-located event, in its 64th year the London Boat Show is far from coasting.
The sound of children laughing and waves lapping on the shore. The feel of sand beneath our feet.
No, EN isn’t spending the day at the seaside; we’re on the ground on Day Three of the newly revamped London Boat Show.
Not only has the show made the relatively dramatic decision to reduce its duration from 10 days to five for 2018, it also simultaneously launched the all-new Boating and Watersports Holiday Show for 2018. The new co-located event aims to cater to visitors willing to combat the cold January weather by planning their next sun soaked waterborne adventure.
Before setting out to explore the show with operations manager Dan Taylor, EN sits down with British Marine CEO Howard Pridding to learn more about what has gone into putting on the 2018 event.
The first topic up for discussion, naturally, is the rationale behind the decision to cut the show from 10 days down to five.
“What we wanted to make sure and do was have five vibrant days,” Pridding explains. “We have a long build-up to the show, and 10 days is a long time. Not everyone was in favour of the reduction, certainly people from boat sales companies believed they needed two weekends. At our 10-day boat show they believe people come and have a look in the first weekend and buy on the second weekend. However, the anecdotal feedback we’ve had so far is that people are doing well and sales have been made.
“People are pleased by the vibrancy of the show. Atmosphere is obviously very important for a consumer exhibition and again we’ve put a lot of investment into the attractions that we’re doing around the show.”
And between the London Boat Show and the Boating and Watersports Holiday Show there are plenty of attractions to go around. Hosted by Sky TV star Alec Wilkinson, The Legends Theatre sees a roster of famous names in the sailing world descending on the show to share their stories and insights with visitors.
Another new feature, forming part of the Boating and Watersports Holiday Show is an interactive area focusing on inland waterways. Along with some inland waterway craft for visitors to climb aboard, the area also features The Lock Keeper’s Inn, a temporary bar seemingly conjured straight from EN’s idealised vision of a canal-side watering hole.
“If you ever go on an inland holiday, you want to chug around in a boat and have a nice leisurely time (because you can’t go more than four knots anyway) and you want to stop at some nice pubs and maybe do a bit of fishing,” says ops manager Taylor as we survey the Inn. “That’s what you’re going to do on your inland holiday, so we thought we’d build it.
“It’s been really popular. It’s from a company called Pop Up Pubs, it’s two containers, and it took them just a day to build.”
For the visitor looking for something a tad more interactive, there was also a 27m x 15m activity pool offering tasters of dinghy sailing (though quite where the wind came from EN is unsure), kayaking and stand up paddleboarding.
As EN continues traversing the show floor with Taylor, we pause to watch a group of schoolchildren enthusiastically kayaking round obstacles in the pool.
“It’s got to be swimming pool quality,” he says. “You have to treat it, filter it and test it three times a day to make sure there’s nothing nasty in it. The one thing we don’t do is heat it!”
The pool, adds Pridding, forms part of an overall effort to ensure that the show has an interactive element for visitors.
“People will come and look at the products but we have to give them more of the experience. That’s why at the boat show we’ve got the big activity pool where people can get on, sail a dinghy, do some stand up paddleboarding, get in a canoe or a kayak. A boat show is a day out so when people come for a day out let’s get them on the water.”
The modern boat buyer
Has the evolution of the internet as a retail marketplace had an impact on the London Boat Show over the years, EN wonders aloud.
“There’s been a lot of debate about whether online would impact on the boat show,” admits Pridding. “But I think the reality is people want to come and look and touch.
“If you’re buying a boat, there’s a ceremony to it. You want to come and sign the deal at the boat show, and be looked after by the boat building company. And it’s not just the large luxury powerboat companies that do that very well; it’s any boat. If people are buying a boat it’s an occasion and they want to make the most of it.
“We’ve been worried about that over the years, but it’s never materialised. People still like the hands on approach. You can’t walk down the high street and see boats in windows like you see cars. Boat shows are the sales platform. People want to look, touch, and ask questions.”
Almost everything EN discusses with Pridding, from inland boating to interactive features to the new co-located show, comes down to one basic message: the London Boat Show isn’t just an event for wealthy yacht buyers.
Naturally the wealthy yacht buyer will find something to engage their interest at the show, but so will the visitor with an interest in small powerboats, British boating holidays, learning watersports and much more.
“The boats are the stars of the show,” concludes Pridding. “Of course everyone wants to come and see what Sunseeker’s latest boat looks like, what Princess’ latest powerboat looks like. But this is a show about boating and watersports, so we’ve got everything here, from the smallest kayak to the most expensive luxury powerboat, and we’ve got to provide that variety.
“The show will always be about every aspect of boating and watersports.”