Atlanta Boat Show returns after 2 years, as events biz recovers from pandemic

After two years on hiatus during the pandemic, the Atlanta Boat Show is expected to draw crowds of watercraft enthusiasts to the Georgia World Congress Center this weekend.

It’s part of a broader recovery of the convention, meetings and events business, which has struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic — first with cancellations and then low attendance.

The last time the boat show was held was in Atlanta was January 2020 — before the coronavirus shut down nearly all travel and large events about three months later.

The show was canceled in 2021, then it was canceled in 2022 due to low boat inventory after pandemic restlessness and enthusiasm for outdoor activity drove a surge in boat purchases while the industry dealt with supply chain shortages.

This year’s Atlanta Boat Show, which started Thursday and runs through this Sunday at the GWCC in downtown Atlanta, has more than 100 exhibitors showing off a variety of boats, pontoons, yachts, SeaDoos, WaveRunners and other watercraft.

Boat show manager Courtney Erhardt said the show draws “everyone from new boat buyers to avid boat buyers to people who just want to get out of the house.”

Exhibitors are “ecstatic” that the show is back, Erhardt said.

Greg Miller, business development manager for MasterCraft Boat, said the cancellation of the show for the past two years “had boat dealerships scrambling to meet demand locally.” Boat retailers and manufacturers have historically gotten 30% to 50% of annual sales from boat shows, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Miller said local dealers got together to do a show at Lake Lanier last year. “It was good. It just wasn’t the impact of a traditional boat show,” he said.

The Atlanta event is one of about 16 in different parts of the country that Miller typically works during the boat show season in the first few months of the year.

“Last year we saw a little bit of a return to shows, but still probably under 30%,” Miller said. “This year we’re probably closer to 85 to 95% of the shows return.”

Aside from consumer events like the boat show, the GWCC and downtown hotels depend on large conventions that draw thousands of out-of-town visitors to the city.

The Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau expects the city to host 20 large group conventions this year with at least 5,000 peak hotel room bookings each, and 22 next year.

Looking at last year’s events, ACVB CEO William Pate said attendance still hadn’t recovered to 2019 levels.

But this year, “convention attendance is going to continue to recover,” he said. Travel into the city is expected to increase as Delta adds more flights, particularly from other countries.

However, what could change that forecast is the possibility of a recession looming on the horizon.

“If we have a significant recession, we could see companies pull back,” Pate said.


Atlanta Boat Show

Thursday-Sunday, Jan. 12-15

Georgia World Congress Center

Show hours: Thursday-Friday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Tickets sold at AtlantaBoatShow.com: $17 for adults; children 12 and under are free.