VANCOUVER – The Vancouver International Auto Show drew a record 115,608 visitors over its six-day run, up 13 per cent from last year’s record attendance.
“We’ve had two years out of three where we’ve seen significant jumps in our attendance,” executive director Jason Heard said in an interview with Automotive News Canada. “It was like a rock festival on Saturday and Sunday.”
Heard credits social media, word of mouth and an increased emphasis on encouraging car enthusiasts’ participation with helping expand interest in the show, which ran from March 28 to April 2 at the waterfront Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre.
The 2016 edition of the show attracted 101,853 people but was a day shorter than the 2017 event.
The Vancouver event is near the tail end of auto-show season. So, it’s not often it lands Canadian or North American model debuts to attract industry eyes. But this year, the hybrid version of the Lexus LS500 sedan was introduced to the North American market via Vancouver.
“We’re not Toronto; we’re not going to get too many North Americans (debuts),” said Heard, who with his father, took over staging the show three years ago.
“We know where we are and we know what we have to be for our marketplace.”
Heard and his team focused on making Vancouver more than just a regional product showcase for OEMs and dealers.
Like other shows, Vancouver included vintage and exotic cars, such as the bullet-proof 1937 Cord ordered by controversial U.S. senator Huey (Kingfish) Long, unseen for almost seven decades, and a rare 1960 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta Competition Coupe worth about $15 million.
But Heard also organized daily “drive-up” events for local car buffs to display their vehicles. Show visitors enjoyed the themed outdoor displays and Heard is getting requests from groups who want to be included next year.
“We’ve tapped into something and people are now excited,” said Heard. “That’s not what automobile shows traditionally do.”
Revamping the show’s stagnant format included a social media campaign, especially on Facebook, where its page has more than 20,000 likes. Organizers also were careful to cater to important ethnic markets, such as providing Mandarin-language signage.
“Times change and you’ve got to find ways of changing with it,” said Heard.
Big and small tweaks to the show over the last three years have generated strong word-of-mouth, said Heard. The show’s ticketing company reported its survey of visitors last year found the main reason people came was personal referral.
“People went and told their buddies,” he said.
Dealers and automakers were thrilled by this year’s traffic, said Heard.
“I haven’t heard a negative comment,” he said.
Planning is underway for 2018, including growing the show by 25,000 square feet, almost all of it window space, and adding an outdoor patio and beer garden.
Heard would love to extend the show’s run but the convention centre’s full calendar prevents it. In fact, the show will shrink again to five days next year.
“We fight just for the days we have,” said Heard.