More and more travel professionals see conferences and marketplaces as places to do business as well as network and socialize.

We all know a trade show attendee or two that “never met a show they didn’t like.” The good news is those folks are going the way of the dinosaurs. Today’s travel industry is all about business. We are faced with challenges we didn’t know existed 3 years ago. No longer are we attending conferences to just catch up and see what’s new in the industry. Astute tour operators, destination marketing organizations and supplier  are taking every opportunity to ramp up their business and that includes only select industry events.

Getting the Most out of Trade Show Attendance

First and foremost, travel trade conferences and marketplaces are all about business. Most tour operators, bus companies and group leaders are treating them as such.

We reached out to a few operators for their thoughts about trade shows. Here are five things that they said maximize their experience at trade shows:

  1. It’s not just about “what’s new” any longer.

    The times they are a changing! Today, when a tour operator asks, “What’s new?” the majority is not expecting a brick- and-mortar photograph of a new hotel property or the latest addition to the petting zoo. They’re looking to their supplier partners for new and exciting tour concepts that are sellable. Tour operators are seeking partners that understand that their business is creating and selling memorable tours to their clients. In responding to these expectations, the creative DMO will put aside the “I need to sell my member properties because they pay my salary” thinking. They’re coming more prepared with ideas and even itineraries.

  2. Sponsored functions are where the action’s found.

    Tour operators are certainly appreciative of eventsponsorships. They understand that those functions are meant to show off the destination that’s hosting the event and help defray the costs. At one time it was all about entertainment at marketplaces. That’s certainly still valued, but operators want suppliers to stay on message. Keep in mind these buyers are looking for new ideas. It’s hard to get a feeling for the sizzle of a host museum, or attraction, while standing in the buffet line.  Most operators still prefer a sit-down function with a presentation that’s on target with their expectations and needs.

  3. Seminars will get your business up to speed.

    Both the American Bus Association Marketplace and National Tour Association Travel Exchange have an educational component that’s an important part of the agenda for their events. Other events like Spotlight have dedicated itinerary building sessions. It goes without saying that tour planners agree these instructive seminars and workshops are of significant value. Most tour operators are considered small business. Group travel itineraries are the “product” they sell and the marketplace floor is key to gathering input. However, they are still looking for fresh insights into management skills for all facets of their business. The major trade associations and their conferences are the place to find that information.

  4. Choose your appointments wisely.

    Properly preparing for appointments is often not a tour operator’s strength. Unfortunately, it’s frequently a hit-or-miss proposition and leads to asking that time-worn question, “What’s new?” Then becoming frustrated with pictures of the new petting zoo addition. Possibly it’s a lack of staff that prevents operators from reaching out to suppliers before attendance. However, the seven minutes on the floor would be far more productive if the seller knew exactly what the buyer’s triggers were. Choosing your appointments wisely and reaching out to suppliers prior to conferences with a quick message regarding their interests will be rewarded on the marketplace floor. Do not let the event sneak up on you. Find the time to prepare.

  5. Follow-up will win you new business.

    Without exception timely and consistent follow up on marketplace business opportunities within two to three days of returning to the office. Along with timed correspondence based on when your appointment promised new information, it’s a critical step if marketplace expectations are going to be realized.

Of course, one of the reasons to attend any trade show, symposium, marketplace or showcase is the social aspect. Who doesn’t want to catch up with old friends and share pictures of the new grandbaby? However, with that said the group travel industry has much higher expectations now, which are going far beyond the “church fellowship” facet of their conferences.