With WTM (World Travel Mart) just around the corner and the world slowly reopening, I thought it might be a good time to talk about travel trade shows.
Similar to choosing a nice bottle of wine, there are varying qualities between travel trade shows. There are those of the domestic varietal as well as some excellent international options. You’ll find shows that are blends geared for different palates and then specialist shows that concentrate on just one grape. (so to speak)
But unlike wine, you can’t necessarily determine the value of the show by the cost to attend.
But let’s back up…
Are travel trade shows worth the hype?
The long answer…if you haven’t yet considered investing in attending a travel trade show, here’s a list of why you might want to add it to your travel expenses for the coming year.
Developing your Niche
If you’ve read anything I’ve written before on finding success in the travel industry, you’ll know the importance of settling on a travel niche. It’s near impossible to have expertise in all areas of travel. So to kick a poor, dehydrated camel in the gut a few times after a long trek across the Sahara…if you haven’t decided on your niche yet, then it’s time to do so.
If you are unsure of what niche to choose, a visit to one of the big travel shows like WTM or ITB might inspire you. Or…they might very well paralyze you. Both are the big kahunas of travel trade shows. Heck, ITB in Berlin boasts over 10,000 exhibitors hailing from over 187 countries. Crazy, right? Chances are, even if you decide to focus your travel niche as “destinations on the globe featuring juggling pandas”…you’ll probably find an exhibitor just for you at ITB.
WTM in London is ½ the size but equally overwhelming. Point is…if you aren’t sure of what your specialty should or could be, you’ll see every available option at either of these shows.
If you already have your travel niche
There are niche-specific shows that are geared to a style of travel (think cruising, culinary or adventure). And then there are shows that are destination-specific, either shows dedicated to just one continent or even shows that are so laser-focused, they are only country-specific.
The most beneficial reason to attend a travel trade show is hands down, to build relationships. Truthfully, real connections aren’t formed on the convention floor. Most bonding experiences only happen after the show, at the bar, over a couple of mojitos.
But you have to attend the show to make the initial connections. The show itself is kinda like speed dating. You get in…exchange business cards, shoot the shit quickly and decide if there is a connection worth pursuing later.
Building strong relationships inside the travel industry can have such wide-sweeping positive returns in your travel business. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used my personal connections – especially with general managers of swanky hotels when I needed to get VIP clients special privileges.
And…there is something so calm-inducing when you know you can just call a friend in destination to help figure out a situation. I have made many lifelong business partners/friends through attending travel shows. That alone is worth every penny I’ve invested in admission.
Increase your profitability
One of the key reasons why travel advisors join host agencies is to gain access to their network of preferred suppliers. And of course, there is a cost associated with working with host agencies for this privilege. And I’m not suggesting that the admin costs aren’t worth those connections but what if…WHAT IF you could make those connections yourself?
In the spirit of full disclosure, many of the reputable suppliers that you meet at travel trade shows will have exclusive contractual agreements with wholesalers and host partners in your country. These contracts are often negotiated based on volume. And these contracts preclude them from offering you the same commission overrides but this isn’t always true when it comes to booking affinity groups. Yet another reason for you to consider adding the promotion of affinity groups to your business mix.
Dealing directly with reputable partners in destination can add mucho dollars to your bottom-line profits.
Becoming known in your area of expertise
A part of building a brand around who you are and what you do is becoming known as an expert in your niche. The travel industry is small, some might say incestuous – especially at these smaller niche shows.
Even between competing suppliers, there is a brotherhood or sisterhood that exists within that close-knit travel community. They talk. The more you make your presence known within your travel niche, the more you will grow your network and your reputation. And this may very well lead to opportunities you may not otherwise receive.
Expanding your knowledge
Travel trade shows are a great way to learn everything you ever want to learn about a destination. You are essentially walking into a room of experts. There is no shortage of brochures or travel maps with suggested itineraries.
And once you start building relationships with suppliers and entering the “in” circle, you’ll gain insight on breaking news not yet announced that you can use to your advantage.
Pretend you are a journalist on a fact-finding mission for your audience back home. Think to yourself, what would my clients want to know that I haven’t already shared with them. Travel shows offer a great resource for content.
Conduct market research
Aside from the multitude of experienced exhibitors to choose from, guess who else attends these shows? That’s right – your competitors.
Attending travel trade shows is a great way to find out who else is in your space doing what you do. While it’s important to stay in your own lane, I do still think there is merit in keeping yourself abreast of what else is “out there.”
Even asking suppliers if they might have some insight as to what is trending between markets. For example, I have had suppliers explain to me in detail how a North American client differs from one who carries a UK passport. It’s fascinating.
Did I mention the SWAG?
I suppose I should remain all serious and buttoned up but come on…who can talk about travel trade shows and not mention the SWAG.
I have received some of the most interesting examples of SWAG over the course of my career. Some of it is head-shakingly cringe-worthy. I’ve received everything from beautifully woven scarves to kitchy key-chains, to yummy confections, but there is a tie for my two all-time favourites.
- A 26-inch x 34-inch framed hand-embroidered silk art piece depicting the Taj Mahal
- 15 lb personally inscribed bronze-plated goose from China
Surprisingly, both never quite made it home. They were left behind for some lucky member of the housekeeping team. 😳
As someone who loves a good gift…I have felt a little spoiled over the years.
Where to sign up?
The cost to attend a travel trade show can vary depending on the show and, of course, it’s not just the cost of admission to consider. You have to weigh up the cost of accommodation and transportation as well. It’s worth factoring these costs into your business plan as necessary travel expenses.
You’ll want to register as a buyer. Initially, as you find your legs in the industry, travel shows are not free BUT… the more you build your reputation as a successful advisor, the more complimentary invites you’ll receive.
Reputable shows want successful buyers to attend so that they can attract reputable suppliers to pay to exhibit. It’s the same concept that nightclubs and bars have been using for eons. Bar owners know that if they can lure beautiful women using “Ladies Night” promotions, men, with money, will follow!
Live events vs. Virtual
My vote is for live every day of the week but sometimes, it’s just not possible either due to travel or even budget restrictions. Thanks to these past two years, even shows like WTM and ITB have added a virtual element. I haven’t tried either, so I can’t comment on how effective they might be.
But I do want to give a shout to a virtual networking platform within the travel industry that I have tried and I do find effective in the event you can’t attend a live show.
The Bridge, is an online networking hub that connects travel advisors with suppliers and destination rep companies similar to how travel trade shows operate. It’s an online resource built to educate and support you, the travel advisor.
But more importantly, it’s a community where industry professionals can hang out and learn from one another and build relationships to support each other. It’s a concept that I think was long overdue. I’m proud to say that I’m a community member.
Check it out.
What’s your favourite trade show and why? Let us know in the comments.