Shari Bailey is vice president of Connect Travel (publisher of the INBOUND Report) and a veteran of more than two decades in the U.S. travel and tourism industry, working in both its public and private sectors, and she has stopped counting how many trade shows she has either attended or been a part of on the event management side of the business. Few in the industry have as much familiarity with trade show staging and management, or in selling at a show as a supplier—an ideal person, we thought, to get some feedback on the just-concluded and Brand USA Travel Week Europe, which was held last week in London. We spoke with her about the event a few days ago and it was time well spent. Some excerpted parts of our conversation follow.
INBOUND: How does Brand USA Week Compare to other travel trade shows in general?
Shari Bailey: In talking with the other suppliers who were there, it is clear that it was very well received. People really, really liked the format. It was more personal. It was smaller. (The last tally we saw had it at 179 European buyers, and 97 U.S. exhibitors.) Yes, they brought in European operators. But their numbers were not huge; it was all the people you needed to see in one place under one roof. They felt that the format was more intimate, much more personal. You get to spend more time with people (appointment sessions were 20 minutes long) and to talk with operator companies that you wouldn’t have the opportunity to talk with at some of the larger events.
INBOUND: So, the longer appointment sessions and the smaller crowd, seemed to work well?
Shari Bailey: It was definitely a good use of time. People really enjoyed it. The key takeaways were: It was a more personal setting; because it was just Europe, people weren’t fighting for attention with other countries—it was very localized and focused on European business; it was an intimate setting in which US Supplier companies were able to spend time with European Buyers throughout the entire event; not just during the appointments but during the enrichment sessions and evening events as well. The participants were able to speak with operators that they normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to spend time with. There was a good showing from Eastern Europe which, generally, you don’t get to see at other events. So, in addition to their tried-and-true markets, U.S. suppliers also got to explore new ones.
INBOUND: Were the tour operators there mostly familiar faces or new faces?
Shari Bailey: It was a mix. There were certainly operators who people knew and had worked with before. But there were additional companies—specifically the Eastern Europeans—that, because of the time or expense involved in traveling to the U.S. for shows suppliers don’t get to see as much. Or, if they’re at World Travel Market or ITB, those shows are just so big that they just don’t get the chance to see everybody they would like to.
INBOUND: What was the sense you got as to how the outlook is for travel to the U.S. from Europe?
Shari Bailey: I think that it looks strong. The first day of the event was primarily for suppliers and it was comprised of market updates from all of the European regions—who was up, who was down, who was flat and what it looked like moving into next year—and everything looked very positive for travel.
INBOUND: Any red flags, any concerns expressed about the impact of Brexit?
Shari Bailey: No, no flags that really came up at the show. There were some enrichment sessions on Brexit, but the overall feel was “We don’t know until we know.” Yes, it’s going on. Yes, we have to watch it closely, but we still don’t know what’s going to happen with that.
You have to remember that, for people who live in the region, taking a vacation is ingrained in their behavior. They have a lot of vacation time and they like to travel. So, what it may affect is the length of time they’re gone … or the category of the hotel they might stay in. Or, it may affect the spend more than it affects them actually going on vacation, but they’ll still travel.
INBOUND: Is the currency exchange rate and the strong U.S. dollar having an impact?
Shari Bailey: Not really. I think that people recognize that the U.S. has a strong dollar right now, but the U.S. is also one of those destinations that’s on a list for people to go to. It’s the same with Brexit and how it’s affecting travel there: You’re still going to travel—you just may not travel two times to the United States—it might just be one and, then, a short-haul holiday that’s closer to where you live. And when you do go to the U.S., it might be for a shorter period of time, and your activities may change a bit.
INBOUND: I once read the results of a survey showing that British consumers would rather give up just about any other activity than travel.
Shari Bailey: Right. For a country that has as many vacation days as they do, it’s always been ingrained in them that they take vacations. It’s not necessarily a privilege. It’s a right, and using that vacation time is important to them. And they’re going to do it. They’ll find a way to do it—within the funds that they have and the exchange rate they have.
INBOUND: How about the question of what people traveling to the U.S. are looking for?
Shari Bailey: I think that the big talk is “Living Like a Local.” People want experiences, not just to attend something. They want to be involved in it. So, when they’re looking at travel, it really is: What would a local do? How could I be involved in that? What’s off the beaten bath? Those are really big. And from the Scandinavian-Nordic region, sustainability in their travel is something that people are looking at more.
INBOUND: It sounds like you must have been really busy at the show. Did you have a full appointment schedule?
Shari Bailey: Yes. And having a 20-minute appointment really gave people enough time to sit down and talk a bit about what they were looking at for next year. We did appointments for three days, and there was a maximum of 12 appointments a day. So, for the entire event, you could have up to 36 appointments. We were full. Most people were. And Brand USA did a great job at managing the ratio—making sure that they had the right number of buyers and suppliers there that supported the atmosphere they were going for.
INBOUND: Is it safe to say, then, that you’ll be back next year?
Shari Bailey: Oh yes. As far as Connect Travel goes, we were there supporting our partner, Brand USA, in their new endeavor. We were very pleased with the event. And we’ll certainly will back to support them in any way possible—again.
Before the event even kicked off, Chris Thompson (Brand USA president & CEO) got up and said that they were so sure that this was the right type of event and investment for the U.S., that he announced the next six years of the show and its location. *
* Location of Brand USA Week
2020: United Kingdom
2022: United Kingdom
2024: United Kingdom