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The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show Plans To Move Forward This Fall Despite Pandemic

Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show 2019
Joel Eriksson
Boats and Yachts lined up for the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show 2019.

The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, better known as FLIBS, has officially sent out its call to 'Save The Date' for the 2020 show. 

Despite the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in South Florida, the 61st annual boat show, scheduled for Oct. 28 - Nov. 1  in Fort Lauderdale, will go on as planned amid the pandemic. 

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The show's organizers are looking to model safety guidelines after Walt Disney World, according to Phil Purcell, CEO and President of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida. MIASF, a nonprofit trade group focused on the growth of marine industries, owns the boat show and works with the global tradeshow producer Informa Markets to put on the show. 

"This is a five-day event... probably reduced attendance, but 100,000 attendees over seven sites and 90 acres, and then compare that to like, a Disney," Purcell said. "It's been very successful there and they're doing a good job, so we're going to follow those same protocols." 

Fort Lauderdale's show holds the title for the largest in-water boat show in the world. People attending FLIBS this year can expect masks to be required, electronic tickets for less contact with other people, and wider docks in high traffic areas, to create more space for people to practice social distancing.

The show will operate by Informa's 'Allsecure Standards' which include criteria for extra cleaning, and can be read in full below. 

"We had to make sure we could keep everyone - the attendees, the exhibitors - feel comfortable and feel safe," Purcell said. "When people said, 'hey are you going to have a show?' By all means, we're going to follow the guidelines, produce the show. The industry needs it... It is that important." 

The Palm Beach International Boat Show, also produced by Informa Markets, had to go virtual for its show this year, back in May. It included video walk-throughs and tours of yachts, web-seminars and fishing presentations. The Monaco Yacht Show, which also bolsters the industry, was forced to postpone until September 2021. 

FLIBS brings substantial economic impact to the South Florida region and the state. The 2019 show saw more than 1,300 boats on display from 1,000 exhibitors representing 52 countries. The 2019 show also brought in more than $715 million in sales, according to an independent economic impact study.

"Some of the businesses, from all over, do anywhere from 20 - 40 percent of their yearly annual growth at this show, so it's very important to them, very important to the employees," Purcell said. 

Read More: Miami-Dade Reopens Marinas; Masks And Social Distancing Required

Since 2017, FLIBS has brought more than just prospective boat buyers to Fort Lauderdale: it has worked to connect those affluent buyers with marine conservation efforts that need funding. 

The Marine Research Hub, a nonprofit effort connecting South Florida university partners, business development agencies and the MIASF, hopes to make South Florida a Silicon Valley of sorts for marine science.


Last year, the hub brought the Ocean Exchangeevent to Fort Lauderdale for the first time at the boat show. The groups awarded money to companies that are working with carbon waste and developing more efficient batteries that could be used in marine vehicles.


Even though walking through the show will look different this year because of the new safety guidelines, Purcell said putting on the show as planned sends a positive message to the marine industries: 


"We have to get back to a sense of normalcy," he said. "So, if the sense of normalcy is the requirement of social distancing and wearing masks and sanitation stations and temperature checks, we're gonna do that." 


Should anyone at the show later be found to have contracted COVID-19, Purcell said there is a plan for that too:


"We'll definitely make sure there'll be some contact tracing, God forbid," he said. 


Purcell credits Kelly Skidmore, former Florida House Representative who is currently campaigning for the open seat in District 81 - and who also runs public relations for the MIASF - with coming up with sort of, an unofficial slogan going into this year's show: "It's not too much to (m)ask."


Despite the economic recession, Skidmore said she thinks more local families will come to the show. 


"Boating is kind of on the rise," Skidmore said. "I think families have realized that boating is a really great way of getting out of the house but still keeping a household together and being able to enjoy what we have here in South Florida in terms of our natural resources."

You can read more of the safety protocols for 2020 FLIBS, below: 


Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, leads the WLRN Newsroom as Director of Daily News & Original Live Programming. Previously she reported on news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News.
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