More and more travel professionals see conferences and marketplaces as places to do business as well as 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, tour operators are all about business. They are faced with challenges they didn’t know existed 10 years ago. No longer are they attending conferences to just catch up and see what’s new in the industry. Astute operators are taking every opportunity to do business and that includes industry events.

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First and foremost, these marketplaces are all about business for most operators and they 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. 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. Functions. Tour operators are certainly appreciative of marketplace sponsorships. 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. 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. It goes without saying that tour operators agree these instructive seminars 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. Appointments. 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. 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. Yes. Without exception tour operators will follow up on their marketplace business opportunities within two to three days of returning to the office. It’s a critical step if marketplace expectations are going to be realized.

Let’s be straightforward. One of the reasons tour operators attend any marketplace, travel exchange or showcase is the social aspect. Who doesn’t want to share pictures of the new grandbaby? However, with that said and with few exceptions, operators have much higher expectations, which are going far beyond the “church fellowship” facet of their conferences.