How Asia’s tour and activities operators can rock trade shows

Leighton Cosseboom on 27 July 2018

For tour and activities operators of all sizes, trade show season can be the most important time of the year. Some events which have already come to pass this year include ASEAN Tourism Forum, Vietnam International Travel Mart, Bali and Beyond Travel Fair, Mekong Tourism Forum, and Myanmar International Tourism Expo.   

Come each September in Asia, however, the trade show circuit becomes an increasingly vibrant one. THINC Indonesia 2018 is just around the corner in Bali between September 6 and 7. ITE HCMC will run in Ho Chi Minh City from September 6 until 8. PATA Mart 2018 will draw a variety of industry stakeholders to Langkawi, Malaysia from September 12 until 14, and Cambodia Travel Market is slated for October 11 until 13. The list goes on. If you’re in the game at all, then you are likely planning your calendar as we speak.    

If you think that trade shows are a waste of time and not important to tour and activities operators, think again. According to ITB Asia—one of Asia’s leading travel trade shows—its event in 2017 attracted more than 250 travel trade media and more than 951 quality buyers from MICE, corporate and leisure. Ninety percent of attending buyers were C-level or key decision makers in travel procurement or contracting. The event claims to have resulted in 22,000 business appointments. These statistics are just from one trade show in Asia. There is a slew of them taking place across APAC over the next several months. 

With opportunities of this size in mind, here are some key ways that Asia’s tour and activities operators—both big and small—can rock the trade show circuit this year.

Schedule meetings ahead of time


On of the bigger mistakes operators can make before heading into a trade show is erroneously thinking that they will get a chance to talk with everyone on their hit list. Sure, investors and valuable stakeholder will be crawling the venue, but unless you have a pre-scheduled meeting with your person of interest, there’s no guarantee that you’ll serendipitously run into them in the buffet line; nor is there any guarantee that they won’t already be actively talking to someone else when you see them.

Most trade shows have areas with tables and chairs meant for sit-down meetings. Do yourself a favour and make your list of key people you want to meet well in advance. About one week before the event, start locking people into meetings in Google Calendar. This is likely one of the most valuable things you can do as a tour and activities operator searching to generate new leads for business cooperation. If you fail to set these meetings up ahead of time, your team will instead end up running around the venue aimlessly, awkwardly trying to grab ad hoc chats.        

Unleash the hounds and make it competitive


If you view trade shows as unique opportunities to concentrate buyers in a bottleneck scenario (also called a ‘choke point’ in military terminology), then you’d be doing yourself a disservice to not deploy every business representative you have out on the floor. Make it clear to your reps that this is their time to shine. Give them targets and create an incentive for them to compete with each other in the context of those targets. Setting a short-term incentive during this crucial window of time (perhaps a cash bonus for the winner) can lead to long-term success for your business in the form of buyers and key partners. Give your team unambiguous and measurable objectives that they must strive to achieve once they set foot in the venue.   

The rare case when panache can make you a legend


While your business hounds are aggressively on the prowl, you’ll also need to consider home base—be it your booth, exhibit, or chosen area—and how it can act as a lead magnet unto itself. 

At most times throughout your professional life, mentors will say that you need to have a ‘substance-over-style’ approach to business. This is true, and in the tour and activities business, it means having your offerings and prices at attractive positions. You also need to delight customers with a strong track record of delivery. 

A trade show, however, is one of the rare moments when your firm needs to show off its feathers like a peacock. At big and chaotic events, visitors have attention spans like goldfish. You’ll get about 30 seconds to hook them and that’s it. They need a truly strong reason to visit your booth; let alone remember you afterward. For this reason, don’t be afraid to splurge on bold, flashy, or tongue-in-cheek signage. It might sound silly, but slightly over-the-top gimmicks can also go a long way. 

Does your company offer exclusive river boat tours through the jungles of Kalimantan in Indonesia? This is your chance to hire someone with a friendly pet orangutan to steal the show. 

Just be sure that once you do have people’s attention, you can deliver the goods in the end. Otherwise, rethink your offerings entirely.     

Exchange leads with other operators


Keep in mind that other operators just like you are coping with the same challenges. They are looking at the show through the same lense, and as such, they need to get results. You can help them and vice versa. While you should definitely turn your hustle meter up to 11, you can also benefit from simply cooperating with the other hustlers. 

Take some time to establish a friendly rapport with a business that does not directly compete with yours. Sit down in a quiet area with your new friend—perhaps toward the end of the show—and pull out your respective stacks of business cards. This will help you bulk out your contacts spreadsheet and maximise follow-up leads after the event. This requires a willingness to also help the other operator do the same.   

Let measurable ROI be your North Star


The most important key to rocking a trade show is understanding your conversion rate. You need to ask yourself the following: “How many leads do I usually need to arrive at a deal?," “What is the lifetime value of a single deal?," “Is this value more or less than what I’m spending on the trade show?," “How many deals do I need to get from this event to justify the costs?” 

If you arrive at the conclusion that you can generate a return-on-investment by attending this trade show, then you should roll up your sleeves and dive in. If afterward, the results don’t appear to make sense, then you should try to determine if this show will be worth your time next year, or if you need to tweak your strategy.   

About the author

Leighton Cosseboom
Leighton Cosseboom is an American media entrepreneur in Southeast Asia. He is the former chief English editor of Tech in Asia's Indonesia chapter, and recently co-founded Content Collision (C2), a media services and technology firm serving brands and publishers in the region. He often writes about technology, travel, and business. He is a contributor to outlets like Nikkei Asian Review, Thomson Reuters, and more. Today, he serves as CEO of C2.