For the "Venice of America," its annual boat show – the largest in-water boating event in the world – is like the city’s own Super Bowl.
"This boat show more than doubles the economic impact than the Super Bowl. People think the Super Bowl is this mega-economic attraction, and indeed it is, but the boat show far surpasses that sometimes twice, two-and-a-half times," Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis told FOX News Digital. "And it's a fun thing that everybody can participate in."
Over the course of five sunny days each fall, the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show attracts more than 100,000 ticket holders and represents the full spectrum of the boating industry, from smaller sporting vessels to mega yachts.
While the inaugural event in 1959 was a more modest affair featuring just 13 boats, today, the city says the event generates over $1.8 billion for the economy, raking in more than $800 million in boat sales.
"Many thousands of jobs have been created not just for the show, but year-round. So it's a very robust industry, very vital to our community. And what better place to showcase the marine industry than this paradise that we call Fort Lauderdale?" Trantalis said.
"This is the mecca for boating," he continued. "The marine industry capital is right here in Fort Lauderdale. From anywhere in the world, you talk about Fort Lauderdale, people know what it means to be connected to the marine industry. So we're very proud of that tradition. We continue to expand on it. We're building more and more dock space around the city for mid-sized boats, super yachts, because we want to make sure that we have sustainability when it comes to the marine industry."
Though data from the 2023 event is actively being calculated, the president and CEO of Fort Lauderdale’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Jenni Morejon also told Digital there’s likely a $2 billion impact from this year’s boat show.
"Half of almost all boat show visitors are from outside of Florida," Morejon said. "Downtown has about a $35 billion economic impact annually. So when we get to see the 'Super Bowl' come in every weekend and then you layer on the boat show, it just really starts to kind of exponentially add economic value to the community."
In the year following the COVID pandemic, attendance demand boomed for the event, with the mayor noting one particular company sold over 200 boats this year.
"It was explosive in growth. They couldn't keep enough boats on hand to be able to sell. Orders two and three years in advance were taken," Trantalis said. "So it's a very, very aggressive industry. It's a very robust economy that it's creating."
"There's about 400 boats that traverse downtown's New River on a daily basis. So, it's pretty amazing," Morejon added. "It's a working river because you have all the boatyards further up. But from a leisure perspective, too, when you have that number and volume of boats that are going up and down the intracoastal and through downtown, it really shows that this is truly a boating community."
Some boat show attendees come searching for ultra-luxury vessels, like one mega yacht this year with a helicopter pad on it. But according to the mayor and DDA CEO, the event has boosted small business and helped lower unemployment.
"The wonderful thing about the boat show is that so many different businesses were able to participate, not just those associated with the marine industry, but also hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues," Trantalis explained. "Yes, inflation has definitely come to Florida. But you know what? It hasn't been as impactful as many people say in the national news. We do have higher prices for a number of things, but a lot of that has to do with supply chain issues as opposed to the cost of production."
"We have 2.4% unemployment here in the region. So people are working, people are engaged in their careers. And we're seeing more and more young people coming to Fort Lauderdale," the mayor added. "Our population increased by 10% over the last 18 months, and it's mostly young people. They see the opportunity here. They see the future here."
Morejon pointed out that about 1,500 hotel rooms in the Downtown Fort Lauderdale area have been added in the last five to seven years.
"A lot of the hotel managers that we speak with, they tell us because of those connections through the water taxi and the easy access to the beach and even some of the venues downtown hosting parties for the yacht brokers and so forth, it really has had an impact on the street level in terms of [food and beverage] and retail," Morejon said.
Echoing Trantalis’ notion of "salty jobs," the DDA head expanded on how the event and overarching marine industry supports white and mixed-collar workers.
"That's kind of what the marine industry coins their program to really get not just youth, but underemployed and maybe folks from a socioeconomic strata that don't typically or will ever maybe have an opportunity to participate in that level of the boat show from a consumer level, but they can learn and have wonderful opportunities financially and professionally," Morejon noted. "It's this very robust ecosystem that isn't just tied to the yacht broker and the purchaser and the fabricator of that vessel, but all of those wraparound job opportunities that this community, more so than anywhere else, can really have such a dynamic mix of jobs that help raise our community up."
Next year’s event will mark a milestone with the 65th anniversary of the international boat show. Looking ahead to the future, the city has noticed a growing interest in more efficient and climate-friendly vessels.
"A focus on sustainability, on environmental issues, on technology, trying to improve how we relate to our natural resources, trying to minimize pollution and see how we can eradicate the damage that the industry may have caused in the past," Trantalis pointed out.
Fort Lauderdale’s coastal, beach brand and the boat show go hand-in-hand, Morejon reflected.
"[It's] not just the event being the event over those four or five days, but really how the storytelling of the personal impacts that this industry has on community members, on businesses, on startups, on long-standing companies, how this spreads 365 days a year," the DDA president and CEO said. "We can help tell a bigger story of how this has so many layers of positive impact longer-term and throughout the community."
In closing, the mayor added: "The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, while it has a proud tradition, certainly has a great future. And we'd like to see the expansion of the product, the marine industries, the jobs it offers, the impact it has on all the communities that are associated with the local economy."