Jeff Gayduk

Jeff Gayduk

I was fortunate to be able to spend some time on the phone with Peggy Bitzer, a longtime friend and colleague from Circle Wisconsin. We talked about how she got the job (didn’t want it), how much she travels (too much) and her swansong, the Midwest Marketplace, which takes place May 4-6 near Madison, Wisconsin. The three-day trade show capitalizes on a trend that’s taking place in the group travel marketplace, more regional events. Read about this in the interview with her on page 15.

Bitzer and a similar group of entrepreneurs are spurring a trend in the group travel industry towards more regionally focused trade shows. While the concept isn’t new, it is gaining momentum.

Sue Arko is one of those entrepreneurs. For 16 years, she has run a successful regional event called Spotlight on the Southwest. This show draws a loyal group of like-minded tourism professionals interested in creating new itineraries in the region. ”I have found that big business is done in small, focused groups,” said Arko. “Spotlight is a cost-effective way to meet with partners who often don’t attend the larger shows and this is the only way to reach them. “

In 2012, Arko connected with industry veteran Melinda Hughey to create a new event in the Southeast modeled after the successful Spotlight on the Southwest. Thus was born Spotlight on the Southeast.

As Arko explains, Hughey was instrumental in the expansion of Spotlight to the southeastern region. “She is a long-time attendee of Spotlight and felt that the Southeast could benefit from a similar conference. And the Mississippi Gulf Coast (site of this August’s event) has provided awesome support. Everyone is excited about the possibilities.”

Meanwhile, a similar story is playing out in New England. Chris Donnelly has been a visible part of the New England travel scene for nearly 30 years. “In the early 1990’s I became friends with Jack O’ Neil, who worked for the Springfield, Massachusetts CVB,” Donnelly said. “We noticed representation of New England delegates at major shows was very small. We discussed putting a regional show together, but after I opened Sugar Tours it left me no time to move this concept forward. This past year, after talking with tour operators and suppliers I finally decided to move forward with the project.”

Donnelly continues, “The response has been fabulous, we have had a dozen tour companies reserve space to attend this November’s show. I am surprised that we already have delegates from Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Mississippi, Florida and Ontario.”

With ABA and NTA going head-to-head for tour operator attendees, will their prime candidates be wooed away by more regionally focused shows? The stakes couldn’t be higher. Associations drive, on average, 40% of their annual revenue from trade shows and if buyers don’t come, suppliers won’t either. Both groups have been aggressively marketing their shows, pre- and post. Add in the half-dozen other events that are fishing in the same pond for attendees, and there is a lot of competition for trade show booths and buyer attendance.

The solution that would keep everyone happy is that the industry needs to grow the base of buyers by actively promoting the positive virtues of group travel. In the meantime, there are three new shows for tour buyers and suppliers to consider for 2014. And competition is healthy. Competition is good.

−By Jeff Gayduk, Publisher, Leisure Group Travel