A veteran travel and tourism industry leader, Will Seccombe is president & managing director of Connect Travel, which provides a wide portfolio of events and resources (including the INBOUND Report) that support and serve the industry. He recently took part in a panel discussion hosted by the ONE Travel Conference on Shopping, Dining & Cultural Tourism that focused on the future of such events for the travel trade. We had the opportunity to talk with Seccombe about the subject and what follows are excerpts from that conversation.
INBOUND: You just completed participating in a panel discussion on “The Future of Travel Trade Events.” With so many other media and channels of distribution available for travel suppliers and buyers to transact business, why is it so important that face-to-face meetings and the events that facilitate them continue to be a part of trade events as we have come to know them?
Seccombe: It might seem a bit counter-intuitive with the explosion of technology and so many new ways to communicate, from social media to live video conferencing from your phone, but I believe that face-to-face interaction is more important now than ever before. I especially believe in the intentionality of pre-scheduled one-on-one appointments like we have at Connect Travel Marketplace, the RTO Summits and Active America China. In the craziness of our hectic daily schedules, e-mails get missed, calls all go to voice mail and just lead to the game of tag, but when you know that you have 10- 15 minutes to sit across from a partner and look them in the eyes, you build relationships that last and those relationships lead to business. This model works for new business in all markets, even when there can be a language challenge.
While is stands to reason that a one-on-one meeting is a great opportunity for new business, because of the power of human connection, we find that it can be even more powerful to have an intentional, scheduled meeting with a long-time partner. It is great to catch-up over a drink at the bar, but the scheduled appointments drive focus of the time together.
INBOUND: As far as inbound travel to the United States is concerned, are there any markets or regions in the world for whom the in-person trade event is especially or particularly important … and why?
Seccombe: Following up on the previous question—Brand USA has shown how important it regards the trade show for the European market by announcing at its very first Brand USA Travel Week last month in London that it has already scheduled the next six editions of this event—through 2025—at different destinations in the continent. What should we make of this?
The Connect Travel team participated in the inaugural Brand USA Travel Week and we were very impressed with the programming of the week and the attendance of both European buyers and U.S. suppliers at the show. Again, a great opportunity to sit down face to face in a manageable environment to build relationships and grow business.
INBOUND: Connect Travel now has six events that focus on inbound travel and tourism to the U.S.—RTO Summits in Los Angeles, New York and Kissimmee, Florida, Active America China, Active America China The Receptive Edition, as well as another Florida-based trade show, the Connect Travel Marketplace. So, are you able to give us any kind of “state-of-the-market” assessment regarding the condition of the Visit USA product based on what you’re picking up from those who are coming to these events?
Seccombe: I am very bullish on the long-term outlook for international inbound travel to the U.S. I do believe that the U.S. travel industry is coming off of 10 years of solid growth and that these past few years it has been pretty easy growth. It is hard to find a North American destination that is not reporting annual record visitor numbers. There will be a bump in the road and the industry is going to have to work harder and smarter to grow business and market share. We feel that the Connect Travel events will be well positioned as the best alternatives to efficiently and effectively build international business.
INBOUND: You have two events this month in San Francisco. One of them, the eTourism Summit is 20 years old and fairly well known in the travel and tourism industry. The other, the Connect THRIVE Summit, is a first-time event. Where do you see THRIVE heading in the future?
Seccombe: The Connect THRIVE Summit is focused on community development through LGBTQ travel, sports and entertainment. We are featuring an amazing roster of speakers including Anderson Cooper, two Olympians, Fred Dixon from NYC & Co, Joe D’Alessandro from San Francisco Travel and Leah Chandler from Discover Puerto Rico—as well as representatives from US Travel, Brand USA, IGLTA, ITB, USTOA, LGBTMPA, PFLAG Canada, and the U.S. Cultural and Heritage Marketing Council. Like the international inbound events, the Connect THRIVE Summit will feature pre-scheduled one-on-one appointments between destinations, resorts, attractions, media, marketers, tour operators, meeting planners and sports rights holders. We are very excited about the program and are looking forward to announcing our 2020 Host destination next month.