Editor's Letter: Show Business

European boat shows can provide a blueprint for a better user experience.


In order to begin writing this latest missive, I was required to violate one of my general operating principles: no conducting business on a plane if I'm not seated in business class. I find it somewhat awkward to type (or even scrawl in shorthand) while being forced to digest the scalp of the gentleman in front of me, who keeps his seat reclined at all times- even while sitting fully upright or pacing the aisle and jingling his change three inches from my cheek. Yet, as I get older, I realize that it's necessary now more than ever to transfer items quickly from my over-tasked head while they're fresh, rather than risk some type of massive system failure. Rules, occasionally, must be broken.

I was on my return flight from the London Boat Show, and for a change, I had found the whole experience fairly enjoyable. I've been working boat shows since I started cleaning boats at the Annapolis Boat Show at age 12, so I admit I'm a bit jaded. In fact, my initial reaction when it's time to attend another boat show is a mix of nausea, long sighs, and overall malaise. this reaction turns to pure annoyance when family or friends inevitably say things like, "ah, what a life," upon hearing that I'm headed, like a pack mule, to yet another show.

To be fair, what I dislike most about boat shows is that I'm simply unable to get on as many boats as I would like, and enjoy them as regular consumers do. That's the fun part. Instead, during show season, I seem to live in some parallel universe to folks like you. My time is more likely spent in a dank, windowless room in a convention center-with the same mildew-rich carpet as the Aloha Deck on "The Love Boat"-gnawing on rubbery Danish at a press conference, while fending off my peers, who will sprint into a burning building for a free meal.

Sure, I enjoy smaller-scale shows (Newport Beach, Newport, Annapolis, and Palm Beach come to mind), where a bus map isn't required to find a restroom. But there's something I find offensive about trekking over acres of pot-holed blacktop past fried dough, snow-cone stands, and a water-skiing squirrel. (As a side note, who was the pioneer who thought it was a good idea to fry dough and then drown it in powdered sugar? Brilliant.) The contrast at these mega shows between what a builder may be presenting and the environment bordering the docks can be stark.

But the Europeans may be onto something. The goal doesn't appear to be solely to flood the gates with attendees bused in from nearby halfway houses, but to create an atmosphere that is organized, chaos free, upscale, and conducive to promoting the sport. Seems like a straightforward approach, yet apparently it's difficult for some organizers to duplicate on this side of the pond. Overseas, the tone may be set by the well-dressed manufacturers, who look fairly smart in suits, rather than the polo shirts with that glow-in-the-dark sheen that we favor. (The one exception I saw in London was the poor sap that stood in a bucket of water throughout the show to promote waterproof socks. I couldn't help wondering who he pissed off at the office to be condemned to 10 days in a bucket.)

Lunch at the London Show was easy and fairly healthy, although I'm not willing to give the British a pass on food-to me the best British food remains Thai, Indian, or Chinese. Want to check your coat? No problem. How about a casual gathering surrounded by classic boats while tasting a dazzling single-malt Scotch? Even the water-skiing squirrel had the day off. I found that the heritage of the sport permeated the show-a contagious spirit and an enjoyable experience. Isn't this the point?

Another important difference is that, in general, all the boats, even large ones, were open to everybody. You want to see the Sunseeker 108? No problem. At the London Show, you won't need to bring a 10-year financial history to board a new boat. Some Manhattan coop boards are easier to deal with than boat show stand gatekeepers I've encountered in the States. I still shake my head when I think about a builder that denied my colleague and I entry, even though we had an appointment to look at a new boat with the marketing director. Is it a coincidence that this builder is no longer in business?

Of course, Yachting is still committed to attending boat shows around the world to learn about new product and report on the industry. But I hope that some organizers walk around their shows and realize that there may be a better way to operate, and they only need to jump on a plane for a few hours to figure it out. In the meantime, I'm on my way to another show. I hope to see you there-I'll be the guy on line at the fried-dough stand.

Send your yachting experiences to george.sass@bonniercorp.com.