Trade show headaches for newcomers


BANGKOK, 13 November 2017: You could say the travel industry is spoilt for choice, but the vast array of trade shows vying for our attention could be a nightmare for new players.

Just imagine you have opened a small resort, based on your confidence that the boom in travel will make it a profitable venture, only to learn your competitive set list is as long as your arm.

Better sign up for a trade show fast, but which one?

You might copycat your nearest rival with the strategy “where you go I shall go also”.  Then you might discover your rival has been networking for decades and pops by the trade shows for chat with his long-time friends.

ITB Asia raised the question for me, when I asked for a buyer manual and was told it was not being distributed.

Buyer lists are the holy grail and if you are not a paid up seller at a show you are not going to get a preview of who is likely to turn up and talk business with you.

A show’s buyer’s list is guarded like the crown jewels. You have to pay and register to know who are the hosted buyers.

What we don’t really know is how much duplication there is in the buyer lists.  For example, I attended the Thailand Travel Mart in Chiang Mai in June, this year,  and will be back for the ASEAN Tourism Forum at the same venue in January 2018.  Will I see the same familiar faces? The same buyers who turn up at every trade fair in the region?  Very likely, as the DNA of the buyer lists circulating suggests they all have the same genetic parents. They have evolved from core lists passed around by national tourist offices over the years and often inbred with lists from commercial exhibition organisers. It is quite possible that the majority of shows, national or regional, are using almost identical lists.

The all-important question is how many new buyers are introduced to restock the fishpond for sellers to cast a line?

To attend ITB Asia costs a minimum of USD4,000 for a tiny booth and THB100,000 for a table and three chairs at the Tourism Authority of Thailand pavilion.  The TTM costs a fraction of that for a booth, or a table and chair.  So are the same buyers turning up at both shows?

You can bet your life ITB Asia replies with an emphatic no, which begs the question is there a vast reservoir of new buyers out there to choose from to cut the duplication?

Cambodia opens its first trade show this month, while Vietnam has two show a year, one in Hanoi and other in Ho Chi Minh City. Thailand has its annual TTM and even tiny Laos on alternative years pulls out an eco-tourism trade fair from the hat. My bet is Myanmar will be the next to introduce a trade show.

Then you have the ATF, PATA Travel Mart, ITB Asia and shows based in India, China and Indonesia.

Does any one rank these shows in terms of value for money, unique buyer visits? Or is at case of “fancy seeing you again so soon?”

Trade shows need a shake up and a strong dose of transparency to clearly identify the worth of their buyers. If not the shows degenerate into school reunions, an opportunity to take a working holiday, usually at the cost of the host destination.