Big Boats, Big Money: How Annapolis Boat Shows Pump Millions Into Local Economy
ANNAPOLIS, MD - Multi-million dollar yachts and ocean-ready sailboats descend on a nautical hub each fall. Hundreds of vessels from Seattle to London converge on this coastal town, drawing the biggest names in the maritime industry. There are entrepreneurs, inventors and of course YouTubers.
But this isn’t Monaco or Cannes. This is Annapolis, a town of roughly 41,000 on the Chesapeake Bay.
The Annapolis Boat Shows are the center of the boating world for two weeks every October. The city hosts back-to-back shows, one for powerboats and another for sailboats. The shows draw thousands of guests, pumping millions into the local economy.
“The shows present a positive social and economic impact to not only the City of Annapolis but also the maritime culture as a whole,” boat show General Manager Sheila Jones said in a statement.
The boat shows contribute about $146 million to the local economy, Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley’s office said. That includes direct, indirect and induced benefits for the city, county and state.
The City of Annapolis is expecting $30,000 to $50,000 in parking garage revenue. It will lose about $10,000 in street parking fees due to show-related road closures and parking restrictions, however.
The boat shows also pay to rent out City Dock. Planners must hand over $385,000 or a portion of the ticket sales, whichever is greater.
Last year, the boat shows paid the city $582,000 under the same rental agreement.
The mayor said the cash influx is a boon for the city, but the boat shows are just as much a cultural staple.
“The boat show is a huge part of our identity here in Annapolis,” Buckley told Patch. “The boat show fills up hotels, Airbnbs. It fills up everything, so it’s a great, great economic driver.”
The Annapolis Boat Shows debuted in 1970 with the world’s first in-water sailboat show. Organizers said the Annapolis Sailboat Shows are the only all-sailboat shows in the country.
This is the 53rd edition of the sailboat show and the 51st of the powerboat show. Every spring, the Annapolis Boat Shows also host a powerboat show on Kent Island and another sailboat show in the state capital.
More than 50,000 visitors are expected at this fall's shows. Some plan to buy mega-yachts on sale for up to $3.8 million. Others just want to browse the 350 powerboats, 137 sailboats and 650 exhibitors around Ego Alley.
Fans come from all 50 states and more than 25 other countries. Over 200 manufacturers are on tap this year, representing 10 different nations. One promoter is flying in from Australia.
All these guests need a place to sleep. Most stay around the showgrounds, but hotels see a spike as far away as the BWI Airport region.
“We have a lot of people coming in, and those people need to eat and stay places,” said Kristen Pironis, executive director of Visit Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. “It really is an economic generator for well beyond Annapolis.”
The Historic Inns of Annapolis expects to be 100% booked for all 124 of its rooms on both weekends. The hotel group is normally full every weekend at its three downtown properties: the Governor Calvert House, Maryland Inn and the Robert Johnson House.
Though the inns are usually full, the rooms cost more whenever there’s a large event in town. The rates are up 40% during the boat shows.
“Anytime you have a city-wide revenue generator it will most certainly benefit the businesses of Annapolis and surrounding areas,” General Manager Ken White wrote in an email. “We have wonderful guests that come back year after year to experience the boat shows — many of which have been staying with us for decades … Much more important to us then the revenue is the opportunity to spend quality time with loyal guests.”
Restaurants are cooking up a profit as well.
The boat shows back up to Latitude 38, a restaurant at the end of Dock Street. Partnerships are crucial to ensure the shows don’t block off their neighbor.
Ray Tompkins, manager of Latitude 38, said the boat shows opened a walkway straight to his seafood eatery. That lets attendees grab a bite without leaving the show.
Tompkins’ team also sets up a food stand inside the boat show, attracting foot traffic. Half-off drinks await at Latitude 38 during happy hour on show days.
Latitude 38 has an agreement to feed the boat show’s staff. The restaurant said it provides breakfast and lunch for around 75 workers for the three days before, the three days between and the two days after the shows.
That’s 1,200 meals that Latitude 38 whips up for the shows’ employees.
Tompkins has to schedule double the staff to accommodate this boom. That’s a challenge because his part-time summer workers are already back in school, but it pays off with a “big spike” in sales.
“When any of this City Dock is used for an event, it could hurt us and it could help us. The fact that the boat show opens a fence line to our restaurant is vital, but that’s not done without a partnership,” Tompkins said. “We have a really good partnership, so we’ve become good neighbors.”
After this weekend, the Annapolis Boat Shows will disassemble about 450 floats used to build the temporary marina. The crew spends six weeks prepping the docks before the shows. They must break all that down within four days after the sailboat show.
Visit Annapolis and Anne Arundel County thinks this logistical dance more than pays off. Pironis said the shows are a slice of Maryland culture that attracts locals and first-time visitors alike.
“The boat shows are really synonymous with Annapolis and the surrounding county. People know us for these shows,” Pironis said. “Anne Arundel County has more than 500 miles of shoreline, and this boat show is in the water. It gets people out on the water, and that’s so much of what we’re known for.”
The sailboat show is open Thursday through Sunday. Read Patch’s show guide for information on tickets, hours and parking. Patch’s photos and videos from the powerboat show are posted in this gallery. Our interviews with exhibitors and visitors are available here.
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