It’s show time! As in group tour trade shows. Some of these shows attract around 4ooo attendees per year from all over the country. There are also regional shows, smaller shows that target niches, and some shows that invite group leaders who are often the decision makers.
The first group tour tradeshow I ever did was years ago in Western New York for a Coach USA group tour leader show. I was nervous as I looked around the room because it seemed like everyone knew everyone else and I was the new kid on the block ( and I was a grown woman!) I eventually became comfortable speaking to the group leaders that came by and got to know the other vendors in the booths beside me. Now these tradeshows are like big family reunions for me and I get to hang out with my ‘road family’ at different locations throughout the year. My decades of experience along with comments and suggestions I have picked up over the years have helped me to create this list to help you be effective at your first, or next tradeshow.
#1 — Bring lots and lots of business cards
Business cards are the currency of tradeshows. Pack a few hundred and keep them with you at all times. You will meet people at the airport, in your hotel lobby and bar, in the educational sessions you attend and standing in line waiting to get something to eat at the dinner events. Everyone forgets to pack their cards at least once,including me, so I keep a stack in my suitcase at all times. If you meet with Chinese operators, they are likely to use WeChat as well as handing you a card so check out this post on how to exchange information on WeChat.
#2 — Attend all the evening events
At most group tour tradeshows, there are some great evening events since the host destination wants to show off its best venues. It can be tempting to take a night off work and order room service, but don’t do it. The evening events are where the real networking can happen. You will find yourself standing next to a tour operator you had wanted to meet, or a DMO representative from an area you where you will be sending a group. Try to mix around the venue and find new people to talk to. Set a goal to meet at least 3 new people and exchange business cards each evening. And remember, you can sleep when you get back home!
#3 — Visit Vendors on the tradeshow floor
Most tradeshows will have an area where vendors and sponsors are set up. The vendors will often have specials just available at the show, fun giveaways and salespeople to speak with. It is a great way to get to know more about the products and services available. I have made friends with the sales reps at several industry trade publications and I believe I get better deals because of those relationships. I have also learned about new technology that will help attractions, and digital marketing services.
#4 — Attend Educational Sessions
Most of the group tour tradeshows you will attend will also sponsor educational sessions. I recommend looking at the schedule before you get to the show, and scheduling the sessions you want to attend into your phone. I find that you can get distracted on the tradeshow floor, forget what time it is and miss a session you really wanted to attend! The organizations work hard to bring in speakers that will benefit the attendees in areas such as technology, social media, personal productivity, business development and more. What’s even better is that most speakers have platforms to keep in touch with you and share more information after the show. Some of the best speakers I have heard in the last few years are Catherine Heeg (CMS Speaking), Beth Ziesenis (Your Nerdy Best Friend), and John Kennedy (John Kennedy Consulting).
#5 — Practice your pitch
Many of the group tour tradeshows are appointment based with set schedules, so it is important to make the best use of the time you have. One of the biggest mistakes I made when I began was to sit down and start talking about my product, and leave just a moment or two at the end for the operator to speak. After all, wasn’t it my job to make sure they knew everything there was to know about the attraction or destination I was representing? Nope.
My job is to learn what they are looking for and help them figure out if my product fits their needs. So now I start by introducing myself with a short few sentences and then ask about their business. You might find out they only work with students, or that your area doesn’t sell well and they need help to develop a better tour. They might already have something booked with you and just need a few photos. Let the operator lead the conversation. I try to end the appointment by reiterating what I will do to follow up.
#6 — Make sure to keep your show bag
Most tradeshows will give all the attendees a canvas bag when you arrive for registration. They are usually full of pockets and can hold everything you need. The problem? There are 3000 others walking around with the same bag. I usually pack a bag from a past tradeshow so mine will stand out from the crowd, They are easier to find if you leave it behind at an appointment. Don’t have an old bag to pack? Use your luggage tag and attach it to your bag. That way if you lose it, it is easier to get it back.
#7 — The Big Question: What’s New?
This is the most common question that a tour operator will ask you so make sure you have some answers. If your attraction hasn’t changed much in the last year, think about some new features or ways to package yourself. Have any of the logistics such as parking, hours or contact emails changed? Can you create a package with another attraction and dining location and a retail stop? This is a great way to make something new out of the existing product. Has your destination or attraction won an award or a designation? Anything that the tour operator can use to promote a tour is helpful. Time spent creating talking points around ‘What’s New’ will go a long way towards your success.
Guest post by Sally Berry: Sally has held many positions in the tourism industry including sales manager at attractions, sales director at a regional DMO, a stint as a receptive operator and now the Tourism Sales and Marketing Manager at the Corning Museum of Glass. The Attractions Coach blog came about after peers kept asking for advice and consulting jobs. Writing is a passion of mine and I enjoy helping tourism pros become more successful. Learn more here.
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About Catherine Heeg
Catherine Heeg is a recognized social media trail blazer passionate about social media and marketing in the tourism and hospitality industry.
She creates and delivers meaningful, dynamic workshops that meet your unique needs in the Travel, Tourism & Hospitality Industry. She and her team help travel, tourism and hospitality pros design and implement social media marketing strategies and tactics that drive traffic to their social and web sites. Learn more…