LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The International BoatBuilders' Exhibition & Conference opened with a flourish this morning as a Kentucky Derby-type horn blower ushered in the 20th annual event at its new location at the Kentucky Exposition Center.
More than 500 exhibitors are in Louisville to show off their latest products, systems and services. Seventy are first-time exhibitors. Dozens of seminars will be held during the conference, which runs through Thursday. As of Monday, preregistrations for the event were up 10 percent from 2009, organizers said.
Also new this year is the MAATS Aftermarket Pavilion, sponsored by Soundings Trade Only.
Although these are challenging times, the boating industry has a strong base of more than 17 million boat owners and 70 million participants, noted Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which produces the show along with Professional BoatBuilder magazine.
Speaking this morning at the annual Industry Breakfast, Dammrich said that even in a sluggish economy boating remains a $31 billion business. Although people are buying more used boats than new ones - 82 percent versus 18 percent in 2009 - that balance should start drifting back to a more traditional 72-28 split in the coming years.
New-boat sales are down 55 percent, but total boat sales are down only 16 percent from their peak in 2006, Dammrich said.
"Overall, this industry is healthy and still alive," he said. "We are resilient, the American consumer is resilient. We will bounce back again."
Dammrich said indicators such as improving consumer confidence, a slowing rate of decline in new-boat sales, an uptick in sales of RVs and light vehicles and four consecutive quarters of GDP growth bode well for boating.
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