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  Vancouver boat show selling the dream  

  

 

by Al Campbell

VANCOUVER, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) -- After having to navigate some fairly rough waters over the past couple of years due to the economic downtown, the Vancouver International Boat Show re-launched Wednesday offering what organizers were calling some of the hottest deals in the show's 49-year history.

The return of the exhibition after a one-year absence due to Vancouver's hosting of the Winter Olympic Games was welcome news to the more than 300 companies exhibiting anything nautical-related at the show's two venues -- the indoor Vancouver Convention Center and the outdoor False Creek marina, where several million-dollar boats were moored.

"Some of our exhibitors can see up to 40 to 60 percent of their annual revenue as a result of the show," show director Linda Waddell said. "The economic impact of recreational boating to British Columbia is more than 1.4 billion (Canadian) dollars (1.393 billion U.S. dollars) annually. Our industry is a major economic contributor."

All the big boating names were in attendance: Zodiac, Sea Ray, Bayliner, Evinrude, Johnson and Mercury, among them.

Brock Elliott, general manager of Campion, Canada's largest manufacturer of pleasure boats, said the past couple of years had been "very tough" for the industry.

He said his own British Columbia-based company, Kelowna, had been forced to cut staff numbers from 185 to 65.

"We do believe we've hit the bottom. We're seeing increased activity in every market with the exception of the U.S. The U.S. market is still very weak for us, but we sell boats in 30 countries around the world now. We've just signed up a new dealer in Russia and we have boats in production for them right now."

Elliott said China was a logical market for the family-owned Campion to expand into. The company has already sent boats to an exhibition in Tianjin and will exhibit a couple of models at the upcoming Shanghai Boat Show. In all, Campion makes 37 different models with 48 variations.

"We think it (China) is just coming to maturity now. What we are starting to see is some real interest in some infrastructure being built there. Obviously, the increased wealth of the citizens of China is showing signs of wanting to have a luxury item such as a Campion boat. And we just think there is a real good opportunity to get a foot in the door there."

He said the company was currently looking for sales in China, and wouldn't rule out manufacturing in the country in future. "We wouldn't close the door to that. But we want to control the quality and partner with someone who could assure us that quality."

One company looking the other way is Weihai Hibo Yacht Company. The four-year-old company from China's eastern province of Shandong is exhibiting in Canada for the first time with the idea of picking up distributors and exposing its brand to the boating industry.

Company official Shawn Pi said the plan was to move into the U.S. market next year to promote its line of inexpensive inflatable boats. The three boats on display at Hibo's tiny booth, which are very similar to France's famous Zodiac brand, are being offered for between 800 and 900 Canadian dollars.

Pi said the company would produce about 8,000 inflatable boats this year, up from 6,000 in 2010. The majority are exported to Europe.

"Through this boat show, we really hope that we can export to the Canadian market and North American market," he said. "We just do our best and let people know our quality. So the low price is not everything, but the quality."

Pi was confident that China's pleasure boat market would eventually be one of the strongest in the world, but believed it was still a long way away. For now, Hibo was going to concentrate on promoting its name through North American boat shows.

"This is the best way and fastest way to know people in the industry," he said, adding that the company would expand its line this year to fiberglass speedboats and aluminum boats.

 

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