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Trade Shows

Seeking greater convention business

Peter E. Tarlow  Sep 26, 2010

Conventions, in the guise of trade shows, may be one of the earliest forms of capitalism. Ever since people have started to trade with each other there has been the need to gather together, exchange ideas, and find new ways to present products, services, or ideas. In today's world, conventions are big business. Ever since biblical days, people have understood that selling a product means more than simply having a good product, it must also be presented well and in an accessible manner. One of the major mistakes of exhibits and trade shows is to crowd the room or have it so noisy that people simply stop thinking. Delegates not only attend the trade show part of the convention, now called the exhibit hall, but also often use their convention dollars as a way to turn a business trip into a semi-vacation. In fact it is not uncommon now for convention delegates to bring family members along with the idea of mixing business with pleasure.

From the perspective of the travel and tourism industry, conventions provide major economic boosts to the host community. Those working at conventions, or attending them, need a great many services, from hotels to electricians, from good restaurants to transportation. Additionally exhibitors may need freight services, in-house co-ordinators, and service personnel to set up and breakdown exhibits. In today's world, conventions also need a great deal of security, not only to stop any pilferage but also to protect both those exhibiting at the convention and those attending it.

In order to gain conventions and to get the most from your convention business, I offer you the following ideas and suggestions:

Determine if your city / locale is appropriate for a convention.
What makes your locale special? What types of conventions would work for your community? What types of conventions might not match with the sociology of your community?

Know who your competition is and what it offers.
For example, if you claim your location is centrally located then determine to what? The reality is that all communities are centrally located to someone else. What makes your location special? How good are your transportation arteries and how co-operative is local law enforcement in aiding needy travellers? Remember that almost every city states that if offers old-fashion hospitality and that its people are special. Most meeting planners interpret these statements to mean that your community has nothing special to offer.

Do not seek conventions that are bigger (or smaller) than your city can handle.
Often communities do not think through the logistics of a convention. If you are going to seek to attract a convention, be sure to know what types of hotels you offer, how close restaurants are to the convention centre and what services a convention centre has. For example, is your convention venue equipped with a communication centre, does it offer land telephone lines or must both delegates and others depend on cell phones? How well do taxis service the centre?

Never promise a potential convention what you cannot deliver.
Remind those seeking convention business for your community to make sure that what they promise is real and do-able. Meeting planners knows all too well how to separate honest offers from the con artists. Always put your best foot forward and place a smile on your face. The reality is that you may never know what will win (or lose) you a convention's business. Treat each person as if this is the convention that will make or break your community.

If your convention centre is close to a less than safe neighborhood, develop a safety plan with the local police department.
It can take as little as one well publicised incident to destroy a convention city's reputation. Work carefully with your local police department so that security is provided in a timely and courteous manner. In a similar fashion, do everything that is possible to enhance the landscaping and environmental beauty of the convention centre's neighborhood. Remember that the neighborhood that surrounds your convention centre is the one that makes the greatest impression on your visitors.

Develop a cadre of local businesses, services and citizens who are willing to turn your community into a convention community.
Remember that conventions make you money when delegates leave the convention centre and go into the community. If your community has poor customer service or simply is not tourism friendly, then conventioneers will speak poorly of you rather than of the convention itself. The more delegates enjoy your community, the more likely they are to return as leisure visitors or recommend it to their family and friends.

Encourage members of the local community to give away freebies to all conventioneers.
Especially in a challenging economy freebies are a good source of advertising and permit local business owners to interface with new and potential customers. Often out-of-towners will provide the sort of feedback that locals never give. Encourage convention exhibitors to use simple yet eye-catching colours and designs to attract people to their booth and if the show requires personal discussions then make sure that the booth has sufficient personnel in it at all times. The basic rules of customer service are even more necessary when your community is hosting a convention. Thus make your convention centre cost-effective. For example, meeting planners will remember that fact that you provided free table set-ups and the conventioneers will be pleased if you provide free computer access.

Provide activities, restaurants and attraction lists for before, during and after a convention.
Conventions are your community's chance to show off. Remember that everyone at the trade show may be a visitor and is a potential source for future revenue.

The author of the article, Dr. Peter E. Tarlow, is the president of T&M, a founder of the Texas chapter of TTRA and a popular author and speaker on tourism.

The original article may be found at: .

Seeking greater convention business
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