In the fog of a pandemic and a stormy political season, the 2020 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show is a much-anticipated beacon for local bars, restaurants and hotels, where reopenings, new menus and other fresh features have been synchronized to the Oct. 28 start of the five-day event.
Taking place as COVID-19 continues to grip the region, hosting a gathering of tens of thousands of people is a gamble, but one that local hospitality veterans believe is achievable and necessary.
“It’s a great thing. I think there’s a lot of fear in the community about doing events, and if they can be done safely,” restaurateur Tim Petrillo says. “If we can prove it can be done safely, that’s gonna be great for the psyche of the people that are here and want to come here.”
The Boat Show, he says, is symbolic this time of year in the same way the World Series and college football are.
“People start to get confidence that some normalcy is coming back to the world,” says Petrillo, also chairman of the Broward County Tourism Coalition Council and a member of the Orange Bowl Committee, hosts of the college football national championship game on Jan. 2 at Hard Rock Stadium.
Petrillo says the eyes of the Orange Bowl Committee will be on the Boat Show, its success serving as a template and a talking point for the elaborate staging of college football’s biggest game of the year.
“No doubt about it. This would be another successful event that people would point to to say, ‘It’s OK to do these events,’ ” he says.
Now in its 61st year, the Fort Lauderdale International Show will be the first major public event to take place in the city since coronavirus closures in March, which claimed important annual tourism drivers such as the Tortuga Music Festival, Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade and Riptide Music Festival. The Fort Lauderdale Air Show was grounded in May and will take place in a socially distanced format on Fort Lauderdale beach Nov. 21-22.
Touted as the world’s largest boat show, coronavirus concerns and related travel limitations will force this year’s Boat Show to be smaller than 2019′s, with fewer exhibitors, fewer boats and a physical footprint that takes up 30 percent less space on Fort Lauderdale’s Intracoastal Waterway. That said, because yacht builders face exploding demand and limited in-person options to show their boats, 20 new models are expected to make their debut in Fort Lauderdale.
Last year’s Boat Show was a record-setting event, with almost 100,000 tickets sold — nearly half to people from outside the state — and more than $760 million injected into the tri-county economy.
Advance ticket sales for this year’s event are “doing well,” says Andrew Doole, president of the U.S. boating division of Informa Markets, the producer of the Boat Show. He said it was too early to estimate what attendance will be.
Doole also is a Fort Lauderdale resident who appreciates what the Boat Show means to locals.
“You go into a restaurant, some of the hotels, and you tell them what you’re doing and the servers say, ‘Thank God,’ ” Doole says. “Hopefully, it’s the reopening of Fort Lauderdale.”
Elliot Wolf’s restaurant Coconuts sits on the Intracoastal adjacent to the Boat Show site and he’s heard the negative chatter about expected attendance at the show. But he remains hopeful, staffed up and loaded down with stone crabs to meet extra demand.
“We’ll see what the locals bring. Anything that boosts sales right now is a good thing,” Wolf says. “It’s been long year.”
Petrillo and The Restaurant People recently reopened the swank downtown lounge Rooftop, at Las Olas Boulevard and Andrews Avenue, with an eye on the Boat Show crowd.
Nearby, Township has introduced new menu items, including The Outlaw beer cocktail, and YOLO is creating Instagram buzz with a new drink called the YOLO Bubble, topped with a large, aromatic smoke bubble. The youthful cocktail crowd at the Wilder, near Broward Boulevard and U.S. 1, will host an “official” Boat Show after-party on Thursday and Friday, Oct. 29-30.
At the Riverside Hotel on Las Olas Boulevard, the open-air eatery Wild Sea introduced a new “value-based” menu this week. Boathouse, in back of the hotel on the banks of the New River, will introduce a refresh of its menu next week.
The Riverside Hotel also is enticing visitors with reduced rates during the Boat Show, which typically leaves no room at the iconic inn.
“The Boat Show is always the best week for us, sometimes even better than the Super Bowl,” says general manager Heiko Dobrikow.
Dobrikow has seen a recent increase in last-minute reservations for Boat Show nights, mostly by people driving from within a 300-mile radius. He foresees a “very locals event.”
“Surprisingly, my numbers are not bad. In the last week, week and a half, we have seen, finally, movement on the Boat Show that gives me confidence that this is going to be relatively decent,” Dobrikow says.
As it has the last two years, NBC Sports Network will film a one-hour special on the Boat Show and Fort Lauderdale, airing for more than 90 million households at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1. It also will be seen on NBC Sports YouTube channel.
Ina Lee, longtime publisher of Travelhost Fort Lauderdale magazine and the grande dame of the local tourism industry, says such coverage is priceless.
“We’ve gotten so much national [COVID] publicity that’s negative. This will really show, above and beyond, how we can put on a major event and, very important, do it safely,” says Lee, also the founder of the Beach Council of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce. “It shows that we are moving forward, and I think that’s very important.”
At the luxe Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach hotel, general manager Robert Lacle has seen a recent uptick in business associated with the Boat Show, including some international travelers.
“Overall, it’s a positive effect, having the Boat Show happening, even if it’s on a smaller scale. We don’t expect to sell out, per se, but we’re going to be pretty high occupancy,” Lacle says.
“It’s spectacular after what we’ve been through in the summer. It keeps our staff engaged and employed. So that’s a beautiful thing,” he says.
The 61st annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show takes place Oct. 28-Nov. 1 at Bahia Mar Yachting Center, 801 Seabreeze Blvd., and several nearby marinas.
Masks are mandatory and other Informa AllSecure protocols have been instituted to allow for social distancing. These include more entrances, wider floating docks, one-way pedestrian paths, additional shuttles and Water Taxis, and contactless tickets.
Yacht, Boat show, Fort Lauderdale
World news – US – Fort Lauderdale Boat Show gives hope to bars and restaurants