ANALYSIS: Boat fair thrives in new home

Fears that the London boat show would suffer from a move east appear to have been unfounded, writes Mike Fletcher

The organiser of the Schroders London International Boat Show, which debuted at Excel last month, is celebrating a 45% jump in attendance compared with the 2003 event at Earls Court.

Initial visitor figures suggest that 210,300 people travelled to Docklands for the 50th show in the event's history, which ran from 8-18 January.

A £2m marketing campaign helped bolster last year's 145,000 audited numbers and saw sponsors Schroders, Virgin Radio, The Daily Telegraph, Honda and pub chain Fox@London join forces with event organiser National Boat Shows, 700 exhibitors and the Docklands venue itself.

Integrated campaign

From an exit campaign at last year's show through to a London-wide poster campaign - including for the first time television and radio advertising - the integrated activity successfully promoted the 80,000 sq m event that had been four years in the planning.

"I signed the contract in 2000 and at that time Excel had to provide another 33,000 sq m of space," says National Boat Shows managing director Paul Streeter. "When the required space failed to materialise a contingency plan came into play that involved building a 10,000 sq m temporary structure, bigger hall doors and a strengthened floor that could cope with boats being moved around."

With 30% more space available than in 2003, Excel was able to accommodate 130 more exhibitors and showcase 800 boats. Tall ships including the HMS Northumberland naval frigate were berthed in the dockside alongside luxury yachts such as the Sunseeker 105, which carries a price tag of just under £5m.

"The show has been a tremendous success and has justified the move to the new venue," says Streeter. "The main worry that people wouldn't travel to east London has proved unfounded."

But the show's 17-day build-up was not without its problems. On 23 December, the floor supporting a watersports arena built to host the first UK indoor windsurfing championships collapsed and the 70m by 30m pool constructed by Media Structures had to be completely rebuilt. Arena Structures, which supplied the temporary building, was drafted in along with Star Events Group and the two completed the salvage mission in just four days, working in shifts of up to 18 hours.

Rapid response

Streeter says: "A decision had to be taken quickly and Arena was able to complete the job so that we could open the pool on the first Monday of the show. We had to remove the public participation sessions to allow for the windsurfing competition and canoe polo. All the adverts for Virgin Radio had to be re-recorded but we received maximum publicity over the weekend to ensure people knew when the activities would start."

Streeter refused to blame anyone for the almost catastrophic incident and pointed out that Media Structures also helped to build another of the show's feature areas, the Inland Waterways Attraction complete with pub called Fox@ Waterside sponsored by the Fox@London pub chain.

Exhibitors didn't let the setback affect them and those that took stands in the accessories section reported sales up by as much as 40% compared with last year.

Portfolio Marine's Dufour & Gib'sea yachts director Joan Porter says: "We had an excellent show with sales 33% above our targets. Excel has more space than Earls Court and our customers said it was much easier to make their way around."

Streeter knows he has to do more for next year now that the bar has been raised. A £1m three-year sponsorship deal was signed with Honda before the event and Streeter hopes this may result in more activity on the water.

"We need to get the windsurfing right and make better use of the dockside area," he says. "I shouldn't moan about attracting 29,000 visitors on the first Saturday and 36,000 visitors for the second, but we need to increase numbers during the week."

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