The answer to the question, while not definitive enough to satisfy some CEOs or board of directors, is more quantifiable and less anecdotal than it used to be. At least, this was the consensus wisdom that came out of an interactive seminar at NAJ’s recent RTO Summit West in Marina del Rey, California.
The discussion benefited from a panel of travel industry sales and marketing professionals who have years of experience—both in working travel trade shows and in developing measurable ROI for those who want to see the benefit from attending a trade show: Dan O’Neill, vice president of strategy and sales at Destination Bloomington (Minn.); Sally Davis Berry, tourism sales and marketing manager, Corning Museum of Glass; Liz Gilbert, director, national accounts and travel industry sales, Entertainment Cruises; and Robert Graff, vice president of marketing and international sales, Papillon Group.
Key Take-Away Points Were:
- sales and marketing professionals should keep their CEO involved in the process of deciding which shows to attend and evaluating them afterwards;
- a full appointment book is not a true measure—remember the 80-20 principal and key on the most productive appointments at a trade show;
- for every trade show attended, track everything that is measurable; be pro-active with clients and prospective clients—call regularly to find out where you stand with them
- develop personal relationships where you can, as a relationship is “all we have moving forward.”
Dan O’Neill: For Bloomington, Minnesota—its featured draw is the Mall of America, the largest in the USA with its 520 stores and more than a handful of ticketed attractions, many with their own sales staff—the credo is “keep it simple.”
- He considers the sales managers he works with as “growth catalysts,” who are not only growing their own business, but also that of surrounding businesses in the Mall.
- International visitors comprise a quality market, but not a real big one.
- Track everything … earned media placement. Click-through inquiries. Visitor spend. Everything.
- For destinations, there are software programs available to carry out CRM, CMS , SEM programs so that all activity, not just trade show participation, can be broken down and into measurable data.
- Make the marketing and tradeshow process an activity in which others are involved; i.e., one that brings the CEO into the selling process.
Sally Berry, who has been successful in making the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y.—once primarily a regional destination in the U.S. Northeast—into a product included on the itineraries of numerous international markets, had these points to make:
- Apply the 80/20 rule to everything (Parato’s Principle, which generically stated, says that 20 percent of something always are responsible for 80 percent of the results) that helps target ROI.
- Know the difference between hard data and soft data in measuring ROI. Hard ROI is specific, while soft ROI is earning the trust of others
- Hard ROI is specific
- Soft ROI – “can you give us some ideas” – now they trust me
Liz Gilbert, whose portfolio includes Entertainment Cruises’ vessels and product in eight locations (Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, New Jersey and New York, Norfolk, Philadelphia, South Florida and Washington, D.C.) has to work with 40 different managers in her company.
- Before committing to a trade show, do your work in advance, check the organizer’s website and know where you’re going.
- Set out expectations about what you should get out of a show beyond just appointments.
- While at the trade show, look at everything—everything. Analyze and process what you observe later.
Brian Said, VP Tourism for Philadelphia CVB, received a spontaneous smattering of applause when he told the audience that it isn’t the destination’s job to serve as the receptive operator, especially when many operators ask them to become involved in creating and pricing packages. The DMO’s position is to create demand for the destination. His year-end reports are built around interactions with the trade. i.e. number of p.r. appointments, number of tour operators met with at various trade show; leads forwarded to hotels.
Robert Graff, whose Las Vegas-based tour company features helicopter and small airplane tours, particularly those that highlight the Grand Canyon and its environs, Helicopters and Airplanes–said he has one principal objective: “get people in seats.”
- It has been a challenging working with a number of international companies because, in a matter of several years, half of them have merged or changed in some structural way.
- For ROI purposes, first categorize your clients so that you can measure them.(OTA, walk-ins, etc.)
- Make sure you maximize your time at trade shows.
- While the 80/20 rule is important, always be looking for new opportunities.
- Papillon is has been working with China, and “we’re working on India now, as we diversify … don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Economic situations change, so diversity is good.”
- Getting the information for leads and for measuring is critical–this is where relationships come in.
- Listen, build relationships, and make sure to follow up (after the trade show).
- “All we have is our relationships moving forward.”