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Double Trouble in Phuket: two boat shows is one too many

by Guy Nowell 28 Jul 21:23 PDT
Thailand Yacht Show & RendezVous at Royal Phuket Marina © Royal Phuket Marina

Over the years, the Phuket Boat Show under various different names has become something of a soap opera, and another episode has just aired. Sadly for the viewers, it is a re-run rather than anything new.

PIMEX (Phuket International Marine Exhibition) was inaugurated in 2003 at Boat Lagoon by Grenville Fordham and Andy Dowden. It was sold to the Informa Yacht Group under Andy Treadwell in 2008, who then ‘leased’ the show back to Dowden whilst the IYG team were busy starting up the Singapore Yacht Show (SYS) in 2011 as a sister show to the famous Monaco Yacht Show.

In 2016 the Marine Department of Thailand’s Ministry of Transport created the Thailand Yacht Show at Ao Po Grand Marina, and asked Treadwell’s new Singapore company, through which he had acquired SYS from Informa, to run it. Local Thai industry stalwarts saw this as a great opportunity – the Government were behind a yacht show, and stated in the press that they wanted to make Thailand the ‘Yachting Hub for Asia’. For many years, members of the Thai Marine Business Association had cherished a plan to abolish crippling import taxes on foreign charter superyachts hoping to operate out of Phuket, but they had never managed to get such a plan onto the desks of any Ministers. This new show sounded like an ideal opportunity to re-engage – and it has to be said that Treadwell, in his new role as advisor to the Government and operator of its own yacht show, managed to do so. Suddenly a whole raft of Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers were making speeches at the new TYS, all professing serious interest in getting regulations changed to enable the Holy Grail of High-Spending Holidays – Superyacht tourism – in Thailand (side note: these changes finally came about in February this year!)

Now, however, there were two boat shows in Phuket. Many industry players believed (hoped?) that TYS would supplant PIMEX out of business just as the Singapore Yacht Show had replaced the old Boat Asia.

In the same year, the Burlot brothers, owners of Lux Inc luxury publications, ran a Singapore “Rendezvous”. According to the standard in-house PR pronouncements, this was a “huge success”, although other reports disagreed. Nevertheless, the Burlots joined with Andy Dowden to launch a Phuket Rendezvous at Royal Phuket Marina in January 2018. However, the partnership between the proprietor of RPM, Gulu Lalvani, and the Burlots did not last beyond the last day of the show. It was not a marriage forged in heaven.

Clearly, there were now too many organisers chasing after too few customers - meaning the brokers and dealers. The consensus was that the madness should stop, heads should be brought together, and Phuket be treated to just one boat show a year. Accordingly, in late 2018 Andy Treadwell (TYS) and the Burlots (Phuket Rendezvous) made friends and got together with the intention of presenting a combined TYS/Phuket Rendezvous in 2019, as well as a Rendezvous at the Singapore Yacht Show.

Lost yet? Bear with me.

In anticipation of the combined TYS/Burlot Brothers event in 2019, and still smarting from the fallout after the Rendezvous event the previous year, Lalvani engaged the original PIMEX proprietor, Andy Dowden, and launched yet another new event: the “Phuket Yacht Show”, which promised to deliver “what the marine industry wants – a centrally located single show concept.” Simultaneously, TYS/Phuket Rendezvous announced their own dates for 2019, saying that “our merger follows calls from the industry to hold fewer and more well-organised yacht shows after many felt the industry was stretched too thinly over several competing shows.” Now we had two parties spouting exactly the same line - both correct, perhaps, but with nobody giving way. The principal industry players in both Phuket and further afield forgot their differences for five minutes and stepped in - issuing a letter saying that they really, really, only wanted one boat show per annum, and strongly inferred that it should be the Thailand Yacht Show, and they wouldn’t attend any other.

For 2019 it was ‘change partners’ all over again: Andy Treadwell (TYS) and the Burlots (Rendezvous R Us) got together at RPM for a show, but that was another partnership destined not to last; in January 2020 a successful edition of TYS (if rather scaled-back, due to lack of funds – the venue rental reportedly taking up a third of the budget) - took place once again at Royal Phuket Marina… and after that, the world went wonky. Again.

The Thailand Yacht Show planned for Royal Phuket Marina in early 2021 never happened. This was not due to lack of commitment on the part of the organisers or the exhibitors: it was due to the circumstances of Covid. The world stopped travelling, meaning that numbers of both exhibitors and visitors were likely be reduced below commercially viable levels. And then there was the small matter of the Thai Government saying “No” to large gatherings of people such as boat shows. The Thailand Yacht Show was thus postponed until February 2022. The current lack of boat shows is substantially overstated – the fact is, TYS was shut down for 2021, and that’s all – and has nothing to do with mismanaged sponsorship as suggested recently by a self-promoting opinion piece by Paul Poole in The Thaiger. The next TYS is slated for February 2022 unless the venue provider – Gulu Lalvani at RPM – changes his mind.

And now, just last week, the newly-badged “Thailand International Boat Show” (TIBS) announced its presence. Hello? Where did that come from? And now we have the makings of a two-boat-show scenario all over again. This is madness.

Precisely what has inspired Gulu Lalvani to team up with JAND Events (“unique parties, memorable weddings, world-class entertainment, corporate events, team building, and incentive programmes”) to run TIBS we may never know – although some of us can make an educated guess, having been observers of this particular game of musical chairs since before Noah was building superyachts. The industry does not want two boat shows in Phuket, and has said so. One of the biggest dealers and brokers in Asia, with its head office in Hong Kong, said this morning, “We have no interest in any Thailand boat show in January. It serves no purpose, we will have no boats to show, and no one will be there.”

In case there is any doubt about this message, here are a selection of comments from other marine industry companies in response to the announcement of the new Thailand International Boat Show:

“We just wish everybody would get behind the existing organisers and help them grow the current Thailand Yacht Show - we don’t need opportunists trying to jump on the bandwagon, destroying the momentum and causing confusion.”

“We certainly do not want two competing exhibitions in Phuket. The industry doesn’t need them, and for manufacturers and dealers, it would be financially difficult to afford. Thailand is only one of the markets that we cover and we are very careful in the allocation of our budget… The last two years have been already extremely challenging for everyone. We just wish that common sense would prevail to find an amicable solution for one good boat show in Thailand. We would like to see the whole industry collaborating with the common objective to maximise the coming opportunities.”

“We definitely do not need yet another boat show. If a new organiser wants to be involved and feels they have something to add, then they need to come together strategically with the existing organisers and agree how they can best represent the industry.”

“We like the idea of a single show covering a larger territory across Asia Pacific, with the tried and tested partners with whom we have worked for the past 10 years who can operate a show like the Singapore Show in the face of adversity and deliver a truly positive and genuine experience for our customers. That feels more like what we need.”

“We are absolutely not interested in yet another newcomer trying to put on yet another competitive boat show in Thailand – or anywhere else in Asia, for that matter. The market is really too small, especially in the current climate, and in our view the whole industry really needs to cooperate together to get behind one decent show in each strategic location.”

Maybe the Thai Yachting Business Association should corral its members in a large and well air-conditioned room equipped with a bar, and lock the doors until such time as a consensus has been reached as to how the industry wishes to go forward, with especial reference to boat shows. Everyone says they only want one boat show, so choose, and then enforce the choice of either PIBS by JAND Events, or a Thailand Yacht Show by Verventia. Both are slated for Royal Phuket Marina, and that’s not going to work either. Let’s get serious.

Gentlemen, faites vos jeux.

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