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December 9, 2011

John Hooker:We seem to have missed out on the potato

The founder of JHCP debates the pros and cons of hosted buyer programmes following an eventful EIBTM.

How can you qualify a buyer? This conundrum has perplexed many over the years.

We live in trying times and the return on investment when it comes to exhibiting at major shows is now under the spotlight. I went to EIBTM this year and it got me wondering whether these show formats really need to be rethought.

You can argue about conference content. You can debate whether IMEX America was the real reason why the Americans were conspicuous by their absence. You can even blame the Border UK strikes for late cancellations and/or absence of UK buyers. (I don’t subscribe to that one because I flew out on the strike day with no problems at all).

So with so many factors now buffeting shows such as this it seems to be that those who do come really do need to meet the qualification criteria. And here lies the challenge. For the tourism organisations it is all about numbers. For others it is about serious buyers with briefs in their hands (thank goodness the Brazilians were there as they were some of the few bearing such gifts).

Unhappy returns
How does the organiser validate the completed qualification questionnaire when there is the dilemma of numbers versus quality? What’s certain is that the whole exercise is expensive. Is it really a good return on investment if one brief converts, and that pays for the stand? Think about the time investment both pre, during and post event. What is the real return you need?

Last year, a seasoned Egyptian exhibitor summed it up nicely when she said: “Show me people I don’t know not ones I do.” A point well made if you have a good prospect and client engagement marketing strategy for the rest of the year. So why is it I still continue to see a parade of suspects for whom this event may well be nothing more than the equivalent of a weekend break?

Going missing
It is incredibly discourteous to miss appointments with suppliers (and for suppliers to miss appointments, too), and exhibitors seemed to have experienced this more this year than others. In the case of hosted buyers, do they not remember who is paying the hard costs?

I also feel for those on early morning appointments, when the heavy night before results in a rich aroma of halitosis. But to be fair, that gets cancelled out if the exhibitor has a similar approach to such encounters.

Some have no shame, expectant of hospitality, superior hotel accommodation (nothing under five star, executive room and on a high floor too), all meals, transfers and freebies. Is this why they bring a big suitcase for an overnight stay?

So imagine this. I was in the queue for the buffet (I am British), when a buyer politely squeezed in front of me with the words: “We seem to have missed out on the potato.” 

I wonder if the hosts missed out on briefs in the same way. In the current climate, what is the real return on investment? Do we want to be more focused on the fries or respect the time, cost and investment we all make to grow our business and the industry?

Next time, I will have a bottle of Ketchup in my pocket because I hate to think they might miss out on that too. This is really an industry of 57 varieties.

John Hooker is the founder of JHCP and specialises in change management programmes in the meetings, events and hospitality sectors globally.

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