Higher attendance at Houston Boat Show buoys sales

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Harold Gore, right, and his son, Brandon, try out the front lounge of the 2018 Sea Ray 320DA-0B at the 63rd annual Houston International Boat, Sport and Travel Show, also known as Houston Boat Show, at NRG Center on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, in Houston. ( Yi-Chin Lee / Houston Chronicle ) less

Photo: Yi-Chin Lee, Houston Chronicle







The Houston Boat Show this year saw an 18 percent increase in attendees over last year, buoying sales as buyers look to replace vessels damaged by Hurricane Harvey.

More than 81,000 people packed NRG Center Jan. 5 to 14 as hundreds of dealers showcased more than 1,000 boats and campers. Organizers initially expected as many as 75,000 people to attend the 63rd annual expo, billed as the largest indoor boat show in the nation.


Organizers attributed the increased attendance to longer hours of operations. For the past four years, the boat show was forced to suspend the expo for a day due to the Houston Texans playoff games at NRG Stadium. Since there was no playoff game this year, the show was held for the full 10 days.

The attendance bump led to higher sales, said Ken Lovell, president of the boat show. Exact figures were not disclosed, but both boat and RV dealers reported “enthusiastic buyers,” Lovell said.


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Business


Texas Marine – which has stores in Beaumont, Clear Lake and Conroe – sold almost 200 boats during the show, about a 5 percent increase over last year’s show. The boat dealer operated a 33,000-square-foot booth exhibiting 73 boats at the show.

“Our industry is driven by consumer confidence,” Jonathan Whitmire, general manager of Texas Marine’s Conroe store, said. “People in Houston are doing well financially. They don’t mind spending some money on themselves.”

Boat sales are rising amid slow-but-steady improvements in the local economy, fueled in large part by stabilizing oil prices. Local dealers saw sales drop as oil prices bottomed out in early 2016, but rising oil prices have elevated consumer confidence and sales in recent months.

An estimated 260,000 new powerboats were sold nationally in 2017, a 6 percent increase over the previous year, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. The group expects another 5 to 6 percent increase in boat sales this year, particularly among family fun boats, fishing boats and cruisers.

Houston-area dealers are hopeful sales will increase in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which damaged or destroyed an estimated 13,500 boats worth $155 million, according to data from the U.S. Boat Owners Association.

Although boat dealers didn’t see an immediate uptick in sales after Harvey, many expect replacement sales to rise before the summer boating season.

Whitmire with Texas Marine said many boats were lost on Lake Conroe and Lake Houston due to the hurricane. As Houston recovers from Harvey and the energy downturn, he expects boat sales to pick up. To prepare, Texas Marine has increased its boat inventory, particularly for its most popular boats like the NauticStar bay boats and Avalon pontoons.

“We’re gearing up for a big year,” Whitmire said.


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