Southampton (Boat?) Show. 2

It’s hard times, well at least it should be – we keep being told that the world is ending, but sailors are a hardy bunch and rather than let a little economic downturn impact their passion the sport is doing okay. Certainly jobs have been lost, but stil there are a hard-core group of people who want to go sailing. Recent numbers at Cowes Week and entries in the Rolex Fastnet Race bear this out.

Those in the lifestyle side of the business probably have a harder time. Trying to shift the same old white plastic yachts with little or no differentiation in a downturn is a tough gig. How then do you run a boat show and make anyone care?

The Southampton Boat Show recently announced that it would feature the Volvo Ocean Race Experience – a series of themed exhibits to enable visitors the opportunity to re-live the extreme race. As far as we know, none of the manufacturers who sell cruising yachts believe they have anything to gain by sponsoring such a race but at least it is sailing related.

But that’s not enough. Apparently a boat show needs to be more than just a way to showcase the best that the industry has to offer. Visitor numbers have to keep growing to justify costs to exhibitors. So what to do?

Attempt a speed-dating record of course. Someone somewhere in a creative agency has got numbers to back this up. There is probably some MBA type matrix that shows that singles love to buy boats. So why not lure them to an exhibition with the promise of a world record and a glass of champagne and then watch them write a cheque for a Sunseeker?

Mike Enser, an organiser of the PSP Southampton Boat Show, commented with no apparent irony:

“This is speed dating with a difference – not only could our visitors meet their perfect match, they could become a world record holder in the process. Who knows, next year could see our very first wedding held at the Show!”

Maybe the stunt isn’t about boats at all – maybe there is some association between the quickness of speed-dating and the expedition with which the show’s sponsor carries out global freight forwarding.

It’s a real shame that events like the Southampton Boat Show continue the perception that boating is not interesting enough in its own right to make the media. By running a PR stunt like this, the message is – we don’t have enough excitement to offer without a silly gimmick.

There are so many good stories, great companies and interesting people around sailing and boating. Why not celebrate it and promote it instead of desperately dragging people off the street to hit visitor number targets?

  • Hopefully I can catch the Rolex Fastnet Race one on these days.

  • Hopefully I can catch the Rolex Fastnet Race one on these days.