Trade shows must re-think their strategies

Guaranteeing appointments is key, says Gemma Greenwood

Senior group editor Gemma Greenwood.
Senior group editor Gemma Greenwood.

When I heard that a brand new corporate travel show was being staged in London last week, I admit I was dubious as to how successful this could be given the current economic climate.

Corporate travel has almost become taboo, no thanks to the ‘AIG effect’, meaning that the days of lavish meetings and business trips are long gone.

Corporate travel buyers are downgrading – they travel overnight to save on hotel costs and instead of flying business, they get the go-ahead for premium economy if they are lucky.

At the same time, corporate travel providers are feeling the pinch and so surely spending thousands on an exhibition stand or show sponsorship is not top priority right now?

Well, how wrong could I be? The inaugural Business Travel Market, which was staged at London ExCeL last week (June 17-18) was hailed a resounding success by all of the exhibitors and buyers with whom I spoke.

There were 100 exhibitors in total, a hosted buyer programme for 250 European decision makers and the Middle East contingent was out in force, with Qatar Airways signing a three-year deal as the Platinum sponsor for the event.

So what was the deal-clincher when organiser, Paul Robin – who defected from Centaur Media where he was responsible for the very established Business Travel Show and set up this rival event – turned up at the doors of exhibitors and asked them to hand over the dosh?

It’s quite simple – the hosted buyer programme and pre-arranged appointment system he was offering.

Exhibitors knew that with these initiatives in place, they were guaranteed appointments.

They told me that without the pre-arranged appointment system, they would have steered clear as it would have been a case of shelling out the cash and just hoping the buyers would find them.

In order to feel comfortable making a significant outlay on trade events, exhibitors now, more than ever, demand to be guaranteed return on investment.

Buyers also want return on investment in terms of the time they give up to attend events and so they too must be comfortable in the knowledge that they will be matched up with their perfect business partners.

The global recession has dealt the travel industry a heavy blow but it has made us take stock and identify more efficient and cost-effective ways of working.

I believe the days of extravagant trade shows, where the appointment system is little more than a free-for-all, first-come first-served affair, are no longer relevant.

The most successful trade shows such as International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM), which is heavily vetted and very structured with all appointments pre-arranged, could set the precedent for the future.

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