The end of the London Boat Show?

By | May 16, 2018

Those were the days…

I would like to say I was very surprised to get the email from British Marine yesterday announcing the end of the London Boat Show.

However, I have to say the move from dear old Earls Court always had the distant ring of ‘this may not be the best way forward’. OK, the trips over to the muddy area that would – eventually – become the London Boat Show were exciting as the venue gradually grew to become quite smart, with trips across the Thames in cable cars and hotels springing up all over the place.

But I have to say I always felt there was something missing.

The area around ExCeL never seemed to catch up, which was always going to be a problem. It was, after all, an East End area where many who lived there are descendants of the men who worked the docks.

Other areas – Canary Wharf, for example – seemed to morph naturally into a buzzing area of pubs and shops and flats. But have the buildings across the dock changed at all? I haven’t been to ExCeL for some time, so I’m probably a bit out of date, but it always seemed to me the area was struggling to move away from the East End.

I can remember riding over to the muddy ExCeL site on my Honda 750 to be given a pair of wellington boots to wade around in the mud, wondering what the area would turn into. It certainly had all the trappings of an exciting site, even if the surrounding area was hardly in the same league.

Perhaps the many who were avid Earls Court devotees (I was one of them, living at the time just down the road from Earls Court underground station), simply couldn’t (or wouldn’t) make the journey over to ExCeL.

The trip to ExCeL was always a problem for most. OK, if you were staying at a local hotel for the duration, it was acceptable, but we lived in a bit of a cocoon for the duration, only catching coaches to go to the various events planned throughout the duration of the show.

Mind you, some of those events were well worth the evening out; river boat shuffles, local theatre events, pub dinners – there was always something going on. And, of course, the ExCeL area was overrun with hotels.

But I have to say I won’t worry about never going back to ExCeL. And British Marine now has the exciting prospect of coming up with something perhaps entirely different.

That prospect will be in the hands of the new boy on the block Gregg Munford for his incoming President’s year, after which Ian Cooke takes over the reins.

I think David Pougher made some excellent decisions in awkward times. And I think Gregg and Ian will carry on in the same vein…

Peter Nash

7 thoughts on “The end of the London Boat Show?


    Hi Peter,

    Thanks for your newsletters, they always seem to contain something of interest to me so please keep them going.

    But your take on the demise of the show is similar to mine. I attended the show when it was at Earls Court several times and it certainly had a buzz about it that Excel seemed to have lost. The show itself became a place I felt until the past couple of years I had to attend and then METS exploded and I lost interest in that long haul to London as the show simply shrunk every year and lost the appeal to me of meeting up with people from the superyacht industry, in fact it became a kind of clothing event with a few largish yachts thrown in for good measure.

    Maybe the powers that be at British Marine can come up with an alternative, something on the lines of METS would be great, we have Southampton, but then METS does seem to cover all bases, the industry in the UK needs a meeting place for professionals, not all members of British Marine, (I am not) as we leave Europe even more so.



  2. Stephen

    It’s not a shock – it’s been rumoured, bandied about for the last 5 years but to put it down to the location of the show is over-simplistic. What about all those exhibitors who would never have been able to exhibit the boats they did through space constraints at Earl’s Court – be they the size of boat or waiting to step into dead man’s shoes for an exhibition spot for smaller exhibitors? Earl’s Court ‘devotees’ never gave Excel a chance. Exhibitions everywhere in every sector of industry are struggling because times are different and that is the case with the marine industry too. It’s the trend in buying patterns, boat ownership, internet sales ….Excel is a modern exhibition centre, perhaps a little characterless, but the road, rail and flight connections are much better than Earl’s Court ever was.
    Thank goodness someone has actually made a pragmatic decision acknowledging that times have changed.

  3. Alan Dring

    AT LAST!! Common sense prevails. I have been in the industry for over 30 years. When I ask my customers around December time if they intend going to the London Boat Show in the January, by far the overwhelming majority do not intend to, but they do bemoan the fact that it even left Earls Court. Since its move to Excel, the London Boat?? Show has certainly outstayed its welcome and the ‘Little Boys’ were fed up with the hype from the ‘Big Boys’, who shouted long and hard about how important the show was for them as if the rest of the marine industry was worth very little. However, can we really believe that all their boat show sales were the result of impulse buys of the multi million pound brigade…. I don’t believe they were. Maybe they were primed beforehand with various enticements of one kind or another….. What will these ‘Big Boys’ do now? Probably the same as they did before, court and tempt their clients, wine and dine them, who knows? But one thing will be for certain…. it’s likely to be without their annual platform to shout from… But wait! I forget, there is the wonderful and proper boat show in Southampton, loved by the overwhelming majority of customers and exhibitors alike! Perhaps it will be an even more momentous annual occasion, where ALL marine exhibitors, regardless of their station, can genuinely shout long and hard about how important this annual boat show extravaganza is to the British marine industry and the financial contribution it makes to the UK’s economy.

  4. Ashley Overton

    You seem to base your conclusions as to what makes a boat show, on the basis of how big / good a party can be had within the locality in the evening. Whilst us exhibitors have to endure an evening environment that is not so much fun as the old Earl’s Court days, our key focus must be on our customers, and they tend to go home in the evenings, so the quality of the bars and restaurants is of little consequence to them.
    What is more important is the experience they have AT the show, and here I agree with you. The London Boat Show has long lost its mojo. When I was on the Boat Show Board, I shouted loudly to address dwindling boat numbers. A boat show without boats is never going to excite visitors. NBS ignored the call to do something drastic to bring back the exhibitors who come to Southampton, but not London. None of us boaties really need another kitchen gadget or a Jacuzzi!
    The 5-day plan last year was an interesting but dubious solution, and did not work. Far fewer visitors, who were even more disappointed, and the exhibitors saw, max, 20% saving, for this 50% reduction in time and visitors. And without two weekends to spread the load, the weekend was a shambles
    The show HAD to move from Earl’s Court. The hall was destined to become a block of flats and the boat show needed to accommodate boats over 50ft. Excel was the only answer. The location may be a problem, but it isn’t THE problem.
    I am not surprised at the call to cancel the London Boat Show. I am however gobsmacked at Mr Pougher, on behalf of Boat Shows, blaming a lack of support by the exhibitors in the Press Release. The issue is that NBS did not listen. They didn’t listen to the contingency of German dealer exhibitors that came to see them to plea for a 9 or 10 day show, they did not listen to the big manufacturers who wanted to keep two weekends, they did not listen to the unanimous screaming to distance the London timing away from Dusseldorf Boat Show, and they did not listen to the visitor research feedback from 2010 which said that the reducing features and numbers of boats (both of which Earl’s Court was famed for) was the key reason why visitors were having a bad experience. It’s been on the cards since

  5. Peter Thomas

    The Press Release from British Marine seemed to blame it on the exhibitors themselves in not committing to a second year of a 5 day show. But British Marine were aware from the moment that the announcement about the new 5 day format came out that it was going to be a disaster for the Boat manufactures and retailers and indeed it was……
    Two weekends worth of people crammed into one weekend, queues of up to two hours to get on a boat, no opportunity for sales staff to do anything but crowd control and no opportunity for interested customers to come back to the show after the weekend to have a second look and confirm the purchasing decision. And then the organisers trumpeted the success of the show as there was allegedly more ‘buzz’ and an overall daily attendance
    slightly up on last year. They completely failed to report that what this really meant was that the total number of people visiting the show dropped from circa 90,000 to just 55,000!
    So no chance to talk to people, costs of exhibiting for five days hardly changing from the cost for 10 days and then half as many people having the opportunity to immerse themselves in the dream of owning a boat. What lunacy!.
    I should add that at a meeting with British Marine and the major boat distributors, it was made quite plain that the industry would support the show wholeheartedly if it returned to previous 10 day format.

  6. David de Vere

    Ashley and Peter’s comments are right on the nail. BMF/NBS did not listen and in some cases did not even consult exhibitors at LBS Excel before changing to the 5 days format.
    As to the future, who knows. The London Cross rail operation opens soon (40 minutes from Heathrow to the doors of Excel) There is a requirement for a boat show in London (90,000 potential customers visited the last 10 day show)
    However, in order to increase that 90K some serious thought must be put into when. Excel is the only site within the London area that could accommodate large boats exhibited. And if Peter Nash had visited Excel to see for himself, he would have seen that things have changed for the better. The east end of London is no longer a waste land that time forgot! The new layout format for the five day show, was a success, the reason the failure was down the reduction from 10 to 5 and the fact that the show was in January when Jo Public is still getting over the Christmas break, still skiing or enjoying the sun in Barbados, getting their children back to school and finally clearing their business intrays after the 10 to 14 day Christmas break !

  7. Peter Thomas

    Sorry to add another comment, but I’m surprised that many exhibitors keep bringing up the move from Earls Court. The show moved to Excel over fourteen years ago! Very few editors of the major yachting magazines were the editor then and they must be wondering what everybody is banging on about. Most of our customers were not even interested in boats 14 years ago, or if they were, it would not be the same boats/engines/chandlery/equipment/holidays as they are interested in today.

Comments are closed.