“The country’s yachting businesses could face a new round of ‘too many boat shows’ once the disruptive Covid becomes relatively insignificant.”
It’s hard to imagine something as simple as a boat show causing endless controversy – but it almost has since Thailand’s premier show, Phuket International Marine Expo (PIMEX), held in 2003 at Phuket Boat Lagoon (PBL).
The brainchild of Image Asia MD, Grenville Fordham, and business partner Andy Dowden, the idea of a Phuket boat show initially attracted skeptics in droves… “They have no experience” and “It would be risky to give them down payments” were just two of the anti-show cries heard by industry naysayers.
But building on the growing dissatisfaction expressed by returning exhibitors from Boat Asia (Singapore), the idea gathered momentum and supporters. Small by international standards and exclusively tent-ashore, with few boats in the water, Thailand’s first-ever boat show was nonetheless hailed as a success by domestic and international exhibitors.
The timing was crucial; the following year, industry efforts to reduce taxes on imported boats were successful; levies of over 200% previously applied have been reduced to just 7% VAT, heralding the true beginning of the exponential growth of the yachting industry in Thailand (and in particular Phuket) – and at the same time ensuring that Phuket boat shows had great future potential.
Thus, PIMEX went well at PBL, under the Image Asia banner, in December each year until 2006 with an unchanged format, and with a gradual increase in the number, variety and quality of exhibitors. Then in 2007 ownership of the show passed to Andaman Marine Consultants (AMC) from Andy Dowden and it moved to Royal Phuket Marina (RPM), which is no longer tented.
Visitor numbers, however, remained fairly static between 3,000 and 4,000 as it became clear that attracting large numbers of foreign visitors to a show in Phuket might be too much of a challenge. This would be a recurring theme.
However, following the international media exposure of PIMEX 2007, the rapidly expanding Informa Yacht Group (IYG) acquired ownership of the show, retaining AMC to handle things on the ground. PIMEX 2008 took place, still in December and still at RPM.
Under the IYG umbrella, big marketing breakthroughs were promised – with consequent improvements in visitor quantity and quality – but without substantial growth in either, although only with a brighter and more professional presentation.
Around this time, industry voices clamoring for different dates came to a head and a change from December to January was agreed upon. Without a show in 2009, PIMEX 2010 and 2011 were organized in January with a 25% increase in the number of exhibitors, but still struggling to exceed the usual 3,000 to 4,000 visitors.
Responding to exhibitors’ claims to the contrary that January was not, after all, the best time to hold the show, the next four years saw PIMEX oscillate between January and March, with organizers doing their best to please everyone. .
Then suddenly in or around 2015, Informa decided to exit the boat show business. Ownership of PIMEX reverted to AMC, and PIMEX 2016 went on as usual in January at RPM, but under the looming shadow of an all-new – and competitive – show the following month.
The inaugural Thailand Yacht Show (TYS), held in February 2016 at Phuket’s Ao Po Grand Marina, was engineered by former IYG mover and shaker Andy Treadwell and looked set to drive PIMEX out of business. . For the local industry, however, it was an unwelcome decision. This meant either doubling their annual spending on the Phuket Boat Show or making a tough choice between a known entity and the newer, obviously shinier alternative.
TYS’ “claim of fame” was massive government support and a key part of its marketing platform focused on the tempting and lucrative superyacht industry.
For the first time, the strident call from the industry, “Does Thailand need another boat show?” echoed around the marinas of Phuket. The prevailing opinion was unequivocal that Phuket certainly did not need two boat shows. But he had them.
PIMEX 2017 took place at RPM in January and was followed again, this time at a more decent interval, by the second TYS in December. In January 2018, we find Andy Dowden’s AMC teaming up with Singapore Rendezvous organizers Olivier and Gael Burlot to present the all-new Phuket Rendezvous 2018 at RPM, which was like its predecessor, PIMEX, but with a bit more. of peps.
Not to be outdone, TYS 2018 returned to its original timing, closely following Rendezvous in February, still at Ao Po Grand Marina.
Something clearly had to give. Phuket now had three separate entities holding two different boat shows three years in a row, straining both the budgets and the patience of Phuket’s leading yacht brokers, among others. And something was done.
An unlikely partnership between Andy Treadwell and the Burlot brothers – who had battled it out in Singapore with the former’s Singapore Yacht Show and the latter’s Singapore Rendezvous – crafted the Thailand Yacht Show & Rendezvous 2019, held at RPM. This ended the brokers’ nightmare of two competing boat shows on this small vacation island, while almost incidentally ending Thailand’s original boat show, PIMEX.
The harmony, however, was short-lived. The following year saw Andy Treadwell, through his new organizing company Verventia, win the battle for boat shows and organise, without visible partners, the TYS 2020 at RPM. Everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief that there was, once again, only one Phuket Boat Show in the most suitable venue on the island.
Then Covid-19 changed everything. The 2021 TYS was, unsurprisingly, canceled along with Verventia’s more mature Singapore Yacht Show. Uncertainty reigned and a boat show vacuum emerged, at least in the understanding of the latest comer to the Phuket boat show battles.
Believing (based – we understand – on discussions with various parties involved) that TYS was not going to happen again, in mid-2021 David Hayes, CEO of event organizers JAND Group, launched the first Thailand International Boat Show (TIBS), which will be held in January 2022 at RPM. Unfortunately for JAND, a combination of Covid uncertainty and the renewed specter of two Phuket boat shows has resulted in TIBS being postponed until January 2023.
In the meantime, TYS has announced a new partnership with Ocean Marina to host the Thailand Yacht Show – Pattaya in April 2022 and plans to run the Phuket version of TYS in 2022 at a date and location yet to be confirmed.
Looking back, during the almost 20 years of boat shows, Phuket hasn’t done things its own way. Ocean Marina Pattaya held its own boat show – Ocean Marina Pattaya Boat Show (OMPBS) for eight years from 2012 to 2019, attracting mostly local exhibitors, some from Phuket and other parts of Thailand. adding to the mixture. The last OMPBS took place pre-Covid in November 2019.
Other attempts to foray into Thailand’s problematic boat show business include Singapore’s Boat Asia, which held a one-off ‘Boat Thai’ at a major exhibition center in Bangkok. More recently, a show within a show was held – “Join Boat Platform” – at the Bangkok Motor Expo in 2020 and 2021. This new event attracted a sprinkling of trailers, water toys and some of the biggest boat brokers , all in the hope of successfully tackling the huge, hitherto untapped potential of the Thai yachting market.
Where to go from here? It would take a much more accurate and robust crystal ball than this writer’s to predict the future of the Thai boat show. But if history is any indication, it looks like the country’s yachting businesses could be facing a new round of ‘too many boat shows’ once the disruptive Covid fades to relative insignificance. The one consistent and predictable element of every past, and probably future, Phuket boat show is the difficult number of visitors. Hi to anyone who can get 10,000 quality visitors through the door!
Paul Pool is the Founder, Managing Director and Chairman of Paul Poole (South East Asia) Co., Ltd., an independent marketing consultancy based in Bangkok, Thailand. The company specializes in commercial sponsorship and partnership marketing, working with both rights holders and brands. Paul Poole (Southeast Asia) Co., Ltd. has arranged, sold and managed sponsorship and partnership opportunities for many of Southeast Asia’s premier yachting events, including nearly every show named in this story.