Give us clarity on trade show buyers

CHIANG RAI, 22 October 2018: Whenever the curtain falls on ITB Asia, a three-day mega trade show, there should be a moment for reflection; “ was it really worth the effort?

This year’s show, that closed last Friday, demands closer scrutiny even if it makes the organiser uncomfortable. Are today’s mega show platforms reminiscent of the Greta van Fleet 2018 hit lyrics, “When the curtain falls we walk the hollow hall”?

Hollow hints of the superficial and fleeting nature of travel shows that reboot across the globe month in, month out, under different brands attracting the same people, who often become  trade show buddies, the next best thing to family. It’s almost a travelling circus, different cities,  same performers.

Now in its 11th year, ITB Asia is a popular fixture in the annual trade show calendar and considered an unrivalled thought leader mainly for its diversity of themes that gain an airing on the fringe of the frenetic trade show floor.  But is the show as hollow as it is hectic?

Despite its track record, professional management and the famed ITB branding that sets it apart from competitors in Asia, there was a hollow sound to the figures it presented to the media last week and more to the point little or no effort to offer the media any detailed performance data.  No surprises, the show’s media conferences have also faded into a shadow of what they were during the ITB Asia’s early pioneering years.

We have to challenge the organisers when they feel it is quite acceptable to report there are  “more than 1000 exhibitors” and “over 1000 buyers” attending ITB Asia this year.  Do they really expect this kind of pedestrian data to be taken seriously?

It’s a slipshod effort to use the word “more” when there is an exact figure available and the organisers obviously must feel we are all a naïve bunch of media hacks to accept that for both sellers and buyers  an identical description of “more than 1000” applies.

Come on ITB Asia you can do better than that. Perhaps you had  946 or 1,096 buyers, but telling us to be content with vague schoolyard arithmetic of a 1,000, here or there, suggests there’s no respect for the business journalists who bothered to attend.Last year, ITB Asia managed to come up with more exact count. It claimed 940 exhibitors and 951 buyers.

If you visit the ITB Asia website the show organiser elaborates and tells us that 79.5% of the 2017 buyers hailed from the Asia-Pacific region, 10.5% from Europe, 6.3% from the Americas, 2.7% from the Middle East and 1% from Africa.

Whatever the year 2017 or 2018 it claims 11,000 delegates attended the show.

ITB Asia has, like most trade shows, gradually closed down the information profiles on buyers and reduced the real-time press conference encounters possibly because its top executives thought the exercise was irrelevant.

The lock-down on buyer information other than what is made available to paying exhibitors, who are part of the pre-matched appointment system, means that today it is almost impossible to gain an independent assessment, or an audit of a show’s value whatever the brand or ownership.

The decline in transparency concerning buyer attendance at trade shows in Asia started when printed directories were replaced  by the more economical and environmentally friendly ‘ebook’ directories. They also disappeared as organisers migrated buyer profiles to in-cloud databases accessible only to registered exhibitors for a limited two-week period when an App starts filling up appointment slots.

If you happen to be rookie sales manager working for a new and independent resort, or boutique hotel, just where do you start to discover clarity on what would be the best show to begin your sales effort?

If you search for comparison studies on trade shows and independent evaluations of their worth re buyer profiles and attendance you will disappointed.  As for ITB Asia, if you are an outsider looking in then a lack of clarity on buyer profiles and references to “more than a 1,000” won’t help confidence levels. Do we have to invest USD5,000 in a 9 sqm booth to discover the meaning of “more or less”?