CHIANG RAI, 22 January 2018: The Tourism Authority of Thailand rolls out the red carpet to welcome participants to the ASEAN Tourism Forum, 2018 hosted in Chiang Mai, this week.
Well done. The organisation of the event will be smooth and the decision to host the show in Chiang Mai was spot on.
But the event theme, rarely mentioned after the opening ceremony, is noteworthy. ‘Sustainable Connectivity, Boundless Prosperity’ reminds us that the 10 nations of ASEAN need to plot a path for tourism that continues to be prosperous while embracing sustainable principles that safeguard the environment, natural assets culture and heritage.
On the surface, ATF looks neat and sustainable. It rotates the venue alphabetically around the 10 member nations giving lesser known destinations such as Chiang Mai an opportunity to shine.
There are only 240 buyers attending ATF, probably one of the lowest turnouts in the annual trade show’s history, compared with high-flying ITB Asia that claimed 951 pre-qualified buyers at its 2017 edition last October.
As one of the cheaper regional trade shows, ATF certainly encourages prosperity with a basic 9 x 9 sqm booth costing just USD3,400 plus another USD700 to place the first delegate and USD520 for each additional delegate.
But it still begs the question whether there is a more efficient and sustainable way to network and channel business? Companies and organisations should do a better job of communicating for the rest of the year.
Many of the companies and national tourists offices that enjoy social networking at a trade show often have woefully out-dated websites with news section still fielding stories two to three years old. Often links are dead and there are no channels allowing a meaningful conversation with a decision maker.
Trade shows generally offer a very shallow networking experience. The real business of contracting is done elsewhere often by people who are not attending trade fairs. The decision makers stay home contracting online.
ATF is not helping its sustainable ranking, either if you examine the paper trail to the garbage disposal at the convention centre venue.
We should do more to transfer contact details between mobile devices using apps rather than paper. Shows need to be savvy in sharing data and why are we distributing show delegate lists with fax contacts and omitting email addresses. Why are tourism organisations handing out CDs when today’s laptops no longer have built-in drives?
Why are thousands show dailies printed for a target audience of less than 300 travel buyers? This year’s event will have to absorb a total of 12,000 show dailies in four editions distributed at a three-day show. What’s sustainable about that?
We receive emails that exhort us not to print the message in order to save the planet, while show organisers endorse the printing of heavy gloss daily newspapers with a print run twice or three times the attendance count.
We could all make trade shows considerably more sustainable if we embraced technology that allows us to communicate and connect digitally.
At the end of this week tons of waste will head for the trash can. The garbage could be reduced if trade fair organisers adopted sustainable principles. One of them would be to ban the use plastic water bottles and straws and another would be to educate retro-publishers that the era of printed news dailies is over. They are a duplication of what appears in an environmentally friendly digital version, so why do we need both?
Once the show day begins, I spend 15 minutes to browse online through the digital versions of the show dailies reading the excellent news and checking the late-night party snapshots with interest and even taking note of the digital advertising. That’s sustainable connectivity. You can even save the favourite party photo and email it immediately or post it on Facebook.
For the four days of ATF, we have to sympathise with the students hired by the disconnected publisher for the almost impossible task of finding 3,000 people who want a show daily. Counting everyone wearing a badge could there be even 1,500 persons at the show venue. (The official unsubstantiated claim is 2,500 plus attendees.)
As the waste and garbage grows by the day, we look the other way, knowing the mountain could be reduced if trade fairs tweaked technology and recognise that social media and mobile devices are the preferred connectivity tools between sellers and buyers. If trade shows are to survive they have to cut themselves adrift of the paper regime, adopt virtual reality tools and serve up news and views digitally.