Marine News from the Great Lakes

Cleveland Boat Show Goes Digital in January

Published: Thursday, January 7, 2021
By: Norm Schultz

From Detroit to Houston, Chicago to Seattle, New York to L.A., Covid-19 has put the kibosh on the popular winter in-person boat shows, but that doesn't mean there won't be any. Many boaters will still enjoy their mid-winter boat show experience, but it will be on their computer screens.

For example, for the first time in its 64-year history, the 2021 Cleveland Boat Show & Fishing Expo will reach Ohio's boaters and anglers in totally new ways.

"In January, the state's oldest and largest boat show will become live in 35 dealerships across northern Ohio as well as being accessible in the homes of Ohio's half-million registered boat-owning families," Michelle Burke, president of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association, recently announced. 

Taking a cue from the Seattle-based Northwest Marine Trade Association's successful pilot digital show for its annual Anacortes Boat & Yacht Show last June, LEMTA will bring its 2021 Cleveland show to Ohio's computer screens.

"We've told our state's boaters that forgoing our popular in-person exposition is in line with our industry's other major winter shows that have an overriding concern for the safety and well-being of all boating families and exhibitors," Burke explained. "So, today's technology will allow us to present the latest in boats and equipment in a new and exciting way."

Credit today's advanced digital technologies for the new online show experience that will include the premiere showing of many 2021 models, along with virtual visits to dealerships, walk-through tours of selected boats and equipment, and even the possibility of direct conversations with salespersons. Concurrent with the planned 10-day virtual show (double Cleveland's usual five-day schedule), many participating dealers from across northern Ohio will also be staging special in-showroom events, hours, and activities.

"Mirroring our normal in-person show," Burke explained, "we'll continue our extensive digital and traditional media advertising for the online event to drive people first to the virtual show experience, and then into our dealer's showrooms."

Just as in the in-person show, a key component of the new digital show will emphasize the traditional January message that boat buyers can enjoy special dealer discounts and manufacturer-backed sales incentives on new boats and equipment purchased during the show. 

Another major factor influencing the boating picture for 2021 will be a shortage of new boat inventory at dealerships. Covid-19 created a big dilemma. First, boat manufacturing's shut-down last spring for more than two months meant dealers weren't getting many of the boats they expected. Even when production started to ramp back up, boat builders couldn't get key parts from suppliers.

Meanwhile, an unexpected increase in demand for boats suddenly hit the market in May for the summer. It rapidly depleted inventories in dealer showrooms. So, what's ahead now?

While boat builders tackle rebuilding inventories nationwide (no small task), new models arrive at dealerships. But, accounting for supply considerations, it may be more important than ever for boat buyers to be ready to order their new boat during the new Cleveland Boat Show to get it for next summer.

"We intend to make attending our 2021 boat show a fun experience, too, both online and in every dealership," promises Burke. "We'll feature contests and activities for all ages. Boaters and anglers will be able to tour the virtual show and decide on the boats and dealers they want to visit during the ten-day show run. Then, they can head to those dealerships and climb aboard everything they want to explore in a safe, controlled setting," she adds.

This year's Cleveland show dates will be January 15 to 24, 2021. For all updates, go to

Reprinted from Soundings Trade Only


A version of this article appeared in the Winter Issue (Jan/Feb) 2021 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.

tags: Boat Show, COVID-19


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