Tradeshows in the Internet Era: Alive and Well and Integrating Technology
By Michael C. Sturman Associate Dean for Faculty Development, Cornell Center for Hospitality Research | August 31, 2014
The reasons that people attend tradeshows depend on whether they are exhibitors or attendees, although the purposes cited by the two groups intersect, according to a study of 2,257 tradeshow participants. Exhibitors are strongly focused on developing sales leads and demonstrating products, while attendees are chiefly concerned with educational opportunities. Tradeshows are increasingly using technology solutions to support those goals, including matchmaking and scheduling software, as well as on-site wi-fi, mobile apps, and internet cafes. Also important to participants' satisfaction with a tradeshow are sustainability programs, notably recycling and a reduction of paper collateral.
Decades ago, when what we now know as the internet was a twinkle in the eye of futurologists and science fiction writers, one clear expectation was that once we had two-way electronic communication, people would have no reason to meet in person, and meetings and conferences as we knew them would be a thing of the past. Flash forward to our current age of miracles, and people do, in fact, conduct plenty of virtual meetings. But conferences and tradeshows remain as strong as ever. It turns out that people have enduring reasons for wanting to meet, and in this column we discuss a new research study that outlines the reasons given by exhibitors and attendees for their tradeshow participation.
In addition to looking at reasons for attendance, this study of 2,527 tradeshow participants also examines some of the ways that technology has augmented tradeshows, rather than supplanting them. The study was conducted by HyunJeong "Spring" Han, of the National Research University in Russia, and Rohit Verma, of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration.
In addition to the expanding use of technology, another important trend for tradeshows is the overall push for sustainability in the travel industry generally and in the meetings, incentive, conference, and exhibition (MICE) segment particularly. Conference and tradeshow organizers are well aware of their customers' interest in sustainability and have taken many steps to improve their carbon footprint. Because of this trend, Han and Verma also examined tradeshow participants' attitudes toward sustainable practices.
Tradeshows today retain their original purpose as an essential vehicle for selling products and services, explaining and demonstrating products, and creating lists of qualified buyers. Han and Verma found, however, that exhibitors and attendees have quite different, albeit complementary goals. Whereas tradeshow exhibitors are focused on setting up sales and finding prospects, attendees are more interested in a show's educational aspects (including learning about useful products). With all these interacting forces, a successful tradeshow requires careful planning and coordination between different stakeholders, including attendees, exhibitors, meeting planners, and destination executives. In this column, we look at reasons given for attending tradeshows, the use of technology by tradeshows and their participants, and tradeshow sustainability approaches.
Exhibiting at a tradeshow requires a substantial investment. According to the respondents in this survey, booths alone average over $5,000; on top of that, the cost of freight, entertaining clients, and booth materials adds a few thousand dollars to the tab. So, it's not surprising that exhibitors are looking for a return on that investment, in the form of improved sales prospects. In the survey, exhibitors' key reasons for attending a tradeshow are to promote their brand and to develop marketing leads. While they also intend to network with their industry peers, their other top reasons are to introduce products and services and, to a lesser extent, gather competitive intelligence. Since interacting with potential customers is such an important aspect of tradeshow attendance for exhibitors, it seems puzzling that a large group of them were not aware of or did not participate in hosted buyer programs, which are expressly meant to connect buyers with sellers.
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