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By Dorie Cox and Lucy Chabot Reed
Big changes came to the yacht show in Miami Beach this year. Throughout the 29-year history of the show, it has been free and open to the public, which could enter at any one of about 30 entrances along Collins Avenue.
But this year, the sidewalk along the busy island roadway was gated, allowing entry from just seven locations and for a fee of $20 each day. Two additional entrances from the waterside were also added.
Most of the vessels at this year’s Yachts Miami Beach were bow-to Collins, steering attendees to two central floating docks from which to view the exhibiting vessels running north and south in the Indian Creek Waterway.
“The new layout is great,” said Northrop & Johnson broker Cromwell Littlejohn. “And I don’t see any reduction in the number of attendees with us now charging $20 a head; traffic is better than it was last year.
“There were known owners walking around with their broker, looking for their next boat,” he said, noting that he has shown one 112-foot Westport to an existing yacht owner four times during the show. “But we haven’t yet seen the number of offers the traffic would have us believe would be coming.”
Several captains showing their vessels were happy with the quality of people walking the docks.
“We had a lot of people visit,” said Capt. Bertrand Ruat of the 120-foot Sanlorenzo M/Y Rare Diamond. “I think we talked to real buyers.”
But throughout his career of working yacht shows, he has learned patience.
“Lots of clients like this boat, but people don’t get too excited during shows,” he said. “It’s usually weeks or months later that you find out they are interested because they are shopping. Then they realize this is good buy.”
Most crew and exhibitors agreed that traffic was light, but that wasn’t necessarily bad.
“The pulse was kind of slow, brokers and sales managers said the same thing,” said Capt. Bill Jarratt of the 94-foot Lazzara M/Y IV Tranquility. “I’m not sure if it was them charging admission or a sign of the times.”
He said the new layout seemed fine, and IV Tranquility was in a good spot right in middle of everything. He said it’s a wait-and-see with results from the visitors the yacht did see.
“It’s hard to tell if we saw qualified people,” he said. “We had plenty of charter interest. No one seemed uber enthused.”
He did attribute the admission fee to less Saturday and Sunday foot traffic.
“I thought this weekend would be a madhouse with nothing but kids and families, but that didn’t happen,” Capt. Jarratt said. “We saw adults asking generic questions and doing their thing.”
The captain found one of the biggest issues was explaining to people exactly where the boat was. First people often were unclear about the two boat shows taking place in the Miami area at the same time, aside from the two locations for Yachts Miami Beach, he said. The 76th annual Miami International Boat Show relocated last year from the Miami Beach Convention Center to the Miami Marine Stadium Park on Virginia Key and takes place at the same time.
“It was difficult to tell people where I was, or to find a hamburger, or a specific manufacturer,” Capt. Jarratt said. “There was no clear direction for people to understand the layout for all the shows, nothing to help with what type of boats are where. When you go in a mall or hospital, it’s color-coded. We need ‘you are here’ and ‘here is where megayachts are’ signs.”
So, like a captain using dead reckoning, he stepped out off the dock to look for landmarks to be able to tell visitors, ‘I’m right across from this hotel, then see this and we’re by that’, he said.
M/Y True North is one of the few crewed yachts docked side-to in this year’s show. Stew Whitney and Chef Steve Anderson love their slip.
“I have heard not one person complain about the changes,” Steve Anderson said. “There is still a lot of foot traffic and the changes keep out some of the riff-raff.”
“I kind of like that once you’re in the show, you stay in,” Whitney Anderson said, referring to the floating docks that eliminate the need to walk out to the sidewalk to reach the next area of the show.
Sherry Ellis was chef on M/Y Scott Free when she first attended the Miami Beach show in 1999. Working with Hargrave in the years since, she has regularly worked the show and likes the changes.
“It feels great here, like Fifth Avenue,” Ellis said on the docks on opening day. “I like the quality this year; these people are all yachties and boaties.”
Capt. Paul Simon and Chief Stew Kayla Edwards are working on one of the new Westports.
“Because it used to be free, the [new] fee may deter some, but people will still come,” Capt. Simon said. “It’s still a great event. You can come spend a day walking the show and it’s cheaper than hanging out on South Beach. And who doesn’t want to hang out around boats all day?”
Megayachts building at Island Gardens
For 27 years, Yachts Miami Beach was in one location on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach but two years ago the show expanded to include larger yachts at Island Gardens Deep Harbour marina about six miles miles away on Watson Island.
Several brokers and captains at Island Gardens said they showed their yachts to just one or two serious buyers each day.
“This could be a fabulous venue,” IYC broker Mark Elliott said from the docks at Island Gardens. “This is a great marina in a great location. However, without the proper advertising and marketing, no one knows about it.”
Several brokers were patient with the low turn-out, especially as this new piece of the show finds its footing.
“This is a great expansion because all the yachts are in one spot,” said Will Christie, a broker with Y.Co in London. “It’s going to gain momentum the longer it goes.”
When told one broker would not return next year because of the low traffic, he said, “That’s short-sighted. We all have to invest in it to make it succeed. It’s not realistic to expect it to be swarming with people in the first few years.”
The Watson Island location has a lot going for it: a vibrant city across the water, South Beach and its nightlife just two miles away, and a skyline that is world class.
“This is probably one of the finest venues in the world,” said Littlejohn, a past president of the International Yacht Brokers Association, which co-owns the show with Show Management.
Still, he acknowledged that traffic was light, but that was to be expected.
“If you take 30 boats anywhere in the world and put them in a show, you are not going to see the thousands of people we’re used to seeing when you put 500 boats together in a show,” he said. “This is a show for qualified and potential buyers. You don’t need throngs. You have throngs of people here and the buyers will not come.”
He wondered how many yachts and attendees were at the first Monaco show, and he recalled his first trip to the Ft. Lauderdale show in 1983 when it was contained to one marina at Bahia Mar.
“This is just the third year of this show,” Littlejohn said. “The top brokerage companies in the world are here. As the brokerage community embraces this show and invites their client base, we’ll see more and more clients walking the docks.’
A broker friend of Capt. Roy Hodges worked the show at Collins Avenue and told him that while foot traffic was good, there weren’t many clients among them.
“It’s a little confusing,” said Capt. Hodges of the 161-foot Christensen M/Y Match Point docked at Island Gardens. “Usually after an election, people are buying. They haven’t been spending money for six months to a year before because of the uncertainty. But that doesn’t seem to be working like that at this show.”
He paused to watch a seaplane land nearby.
“That’s the most entertainment we’ve had.”