What is the Point of Trade Shows?

What is the point of trade shows?

Ever since I started in the tourism business, trade shows have been an integral, if misunderstood part of the communications landscape. On the one hand you were excited because it meant getting out of the office for a few days with the occasional bonus of not having to travel to Birmingham – and on the other hand, you dreaded them because you would have to speak to people, often concerning things you knew next to nothing about.

This weeks World Travel Market has been a particularly interesting trade show, and like so many things in life, interesting for unexpected reasons. Long seen as an excuse for delegates to enjoy the retail offer of the host city, if you get past that, it still has a role.

Technology has made doing international business easier and cheaper, but we are social animals, and the benefits of relationship building, re-affirming existing relationships and building even more business is better done person-to-person, in my experience. This means that a great effort has to be put into the planning and execution, you can’t just turn up and sit around hoping someone will speak to you. Having said that, we definatly don’t need four days to do this.

What was most striking, is how the traditional communication models are being torn up, re-invented or are still evolving. I lost count of the number of conversations I had with travel trade struggling to get to grips with these changes, not least of all in how the consumer is researching then buying their holiday. Direct in some cases, by-passing the trade altogether. Some are frankly bewildered by what’s going on, and are genuinely struggling to adapt. They cling like barnacles to their business model, hoping they can ride it out and it will all magically go away. It won’t and whilst I profess to be no expert on social media and it’s impact, I recognise that it is the future. Enjoy the ride!

Of great interest to many tourism organisations is the ROI of social media with the jury still out on how best to measure this. Bare in mind that the way we measure much of our marketing and communication success or failure is not a scientific process either. We still use the dubious method of equating press editorial with advertising costs for example. They bare no relation as they are viewed in a completely different way by the consumer and are always calculated on rack rates. Who pays those?

Yet there are also travel trade companies who are enjoying growth in existing markets or expanding to bring their brand and business model into new markets. What stuck me is that these businesses are run by people who are passionate and knowledgeable about what they do, they really treat their customers well, don’t quibble with refunds or complaints and don’t take themselves too seriously! They differentiate themselves by offering the consumer peace of mind, seamless service and an insider knowledge of what they sell that is worth gold dust. There is a market for this, especially in light of the many airline and tour operator failures that have left consumers out of pocket and sometimes unable to get home. In spite of the social media maelstrom, they seem to have stuck to the tried and tested model of offering exceptional service. Rocket science? Hardly.

To conclude; think carefully about the type and information content you develop. There is so much online noise, how are you standing out and reaching out to potential consumers? Does your business model stand out for the wrong reasons? What are your customers saying about you?

My final thoughts will rest with those companies who persist with exhibition spam in their attempts to sell you stuff you don’t need with a cold call…don’t get nasty when I tell you to (politely) piss off the stand that has cost my client thousands of pounds. Remember, we are here to sell our ‘stuff’, not buy yours!

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