Confessions of a Trade Show Junkie
If your first thought is, why would I even consider attending a travel show in the first place, you may want to check out 7 Reasons Why Travel Trade Shows Are Worth the Hype first.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, there is a fine art to getting the most out of them. I’ve written this article from the buyer’s vantage point (that’s us) and not the seller’s, although I suppose some points are valid for both parties.
Let’s dig in.
1. Stay at the hotel associated with the event.
Like every good conference, there is always a hotel (or two) listed as the official hotel of the show. And yes, the official hotel is generally more expensive than just about every hotel in the area but don’t be tempted to save a few bucks and decide to couch surf.
The number one reason to attend any travel trade show is to network. And, the best networking happens long after the exhibitors have put away the candy dishes on their presentation tables. It’s the conversations you have in the hotel lobby, waiting for the elevator, or standing in line at the omelette station during breakfast that turn into business opportunities.
And hey…if you are looking for an excuse to drink…it’s almost a rite of passage to unwind in the hotel bar after the show. There is pure gold drinking craft beers and sipping fine wine waiting to meet you.
2. Bring a wheelie carryon and some comfy shoes.
As a veteran of the travel show genre, I feel like advice that offers… “Bring a carryon with wheels along with comfy shoes” is a bit like saying…don’t forget to bring your passport when heading to the airport – yet…
I’m always amazed by the number of my contemporaries who walk the trade show floor ladened down with brochures in plastic bags and heels that would make even a Charlie’s Angel go 😳.
I don’t get it.
By the time I leave the event, my wheelie is always overflowing with brochures and maps and pens and other travel trade show paraphernalia that I can’t imagine hauling around on my shoulder.
3. Make a plan and be clear of your objective.
Regardless of the size of the show, there will always be far more exhibitors than the time allotted. You’ll want to be really clear of your objective when deciding on your game-day strategy.
Are you looking to find suppliers specializing in adventure excursions, or hoping to contact general managers at your favourite hotels? Or perhaps you want to make a connection with a tourism board to collaborate with on a joint venture?
These shows can be expensive to attend, so every second wasted might be a missed opportunity for future business.
And some of these shows are massive. You’ll do yourself a favour by reviewing the floor plan and making appointments accordingly. Arm pit sweat is never attractive.
4. Have a set of questions prepped – don’t wing it.
I’ll admit…in the early days as a trade show rookie, my plan was to play things by ear. I’d roll with the punches. I figured conversation would flow naturally, and it did for the most part. But then afterwards, when I tried to choose between companies, I found it difficult to compare because I hadn’t asked the same questions of each.
I’d recommend writing down at least five deciding factors for comparison’s sake and then leaving the rest of the meeting for free-flow conversation. At least then, you’ll have a baseline to work from when you get back to the office.
5. Do your research
Every travel trade show tends to run a little differently. For many, you can pre-schedule all of your appointments. And yet with others, the expectation is that you schedule your appointments on-site. Regardless, if given the opportunity to pre-register, I’d resist the urge of procrastination and start scheduling as soon as possible. But, if allowed, I always keep a few empty appointments for last-minute additions that look juicy.
I always make it a point to do my research on every company I plan to meet. Dropping a tidbit of info that proved that I’d taken a moment and gave a shit…Wow..did that ever change the tone of the rest of the meeting. Sure…I might have been the buyer, but I never lost sight that all relationships should be mutually reciprocal.
6. Keep your appointments
With 80% of the travel trade shows I’ve attended, I am surprised by how many buyers ignore the pre-arranged schedule and try to fit in all their appointments on the first day. I can only assume the thought process is that it frees up the final days to go out and explore the city instead. While that might be tempting…I have only one objective at trade shows, and that is creating long-term relationships. If I want to see Madame Tussaud’s wax museum as a bonus… I will book an extra day of travel.
Sellers hate this trade show behaviour, but they are too polite to say anything because…well, they are sellers. They can’t afford to get pissy. But these antics will definitely earn you some stink-eye behind the scenes.
7. Have enough business cards on hand.
Have you ever heard the useful packing advice that states…” lay everything out and then take half?
Well, when it comes to business cards, figure out how many you think you’ll need and then take double. At some point in time, the business card will go the way of the dodo, but that just hasn’t happened yet.
I also use Evernote as my CRM (contact relationship management) tool. A business card scanner is built into the mobile app alongside room to make notes for future reflection.
And if I’ve really connected with someone, I’ll even take a pic with them so I can better put a face for follow-up later. Otherwise, my goldfishy brain easily forgets who’s who.
8. Set up off-site meetings for your preferred partners.
As mentioned, the best meetings take place off-premises from the show. The actual meeting time slots during the show are short. Which is excellent when you find yourself sitting inside an awkward conversation with someone with whom you know you’ll never do business. But, when you meet that special partner, and things just click, the allotted time is just never enough. It’s like speed dating.
Of course, you can make plans to meet up later, but I always have a handful of top-tier travel companies I want to meet, so I’ll reach out to them in advance to try and secure lunch or dinner dates anticipating a longer conversation will be required.
9. Follow up post-show and make a LinkedIn connection.
Just because we are buyers doesn’t mean we should sit passively and wait for the sellers to reach out to us after the show. Sadly, many of them won’t. It’s networking 101, but I think many sellers skip this page in their seller manuals.
I try to send a quick follow-up to everyone I meet, even just to say…” hey, it was great meeting you, let’s stay connected via Linkedin” You never know when a connection today might lead to a business opportunity later.
Or, if I’m interested in pursuing the relationship, I’ll follow up to inquire about the next steps.
And finally…One of the best parts of working in the travel industry is that most travel trade shows are held in exotic locales. Not that any of us needs a reason to travel, but hey, there are worse places to have business meetings than on a beach in Bali. Just sayin’
Do you have a favourite travel trade show?