This week marked the beginning of the period during which travel suppliers attending IPW in Las Vegas from May 30-June 3 and, provided that the event does indeed get under way, those suppliers and buyers of the U.S. travel experience will come together to sell, buy and develop the products that make up that experience.
For those attending for the first-time, IPW can be a daunting experience. INBOUND’s editor barely had a grasp of what was going on during his first IPW in 1986 in Phoenix and did not really feel familiar with the event until 1989 in—Where else?—Las Vegas. In order to spare first-timers some of grief and sense of being lost that one can feel at his or her first IPW, we got together and discussed the matter with Robert Graff, vice president of sales and marketing for Bindlestiff Tours, and a veteran of more than 20 years at IPW who lives and works out of Las Vegas, site of this year’s “big dance” for the inbound travel and tourism industry in the USA.
What follows is a rendering of our conversation from which, we hope, both beginner and veteran will benefit from the wisdom of Graff who speaks, at last count, seven languages and has a deep understanding of the cultures and business styles and practices of the people from a number of source markets—Europe, the Middle East, Asia to Latin America. Following is an excerpted version of our conversation.
INBOUND: What is the first thing you should do when someone comes to your booth?
Graff: The first thing you need to do starts well in advance of the appointment. When you sign up on the IPW appointment scheduling system, you’re requesting meetings with clients. The first thing you need to be doing is identifying the right client that you need for your business. So, you start your search through the databases, so that you understand the market that you want to focus on because there are people coming in from all around the world.
Identify the markets that you’re interested in. Identify those top clients that serve your area. identify the type, the level of clients, you are looking for. Are they group clients? Are they FIT? Are they focused on luxury? Do they focus on what type of business are you looking for? Do they come to your area? And then I would probably solicit those through the IPW system. But I would also try to reach out and track them down, say, on LinkedIn, find their e-mail addresses and reach out to the company pointing out that you requested to see them and that you would like to meet with them and just kind of give them a very short brief of who you are and why you want meet with them. Because if you’re able to get a mutual match then, automatically, you’re moving up the ladder on as a supplier.
INBOUND: What else should you do—even if it’s still before your first appointment takes place?
Graff: Yes, right! Now, you’re going to meet them face to face. There’s still more to do. You had better be reading up on their profile. See exactly what they do. Their profiles are pretty extensive. They’ll tell you exactly what the operators are looking for or what new areas they’re focusing on. And so, I would hone in on showing them how your products would be able to fit into that picture –and how you’re able offer them in a way that suits their needs.
I think you need to be cautious, though … if you’ve been doing this with several clients back-to-back … that you don’t sound like a broken record, because by the time you’re done with 40 appointments, you’ve been repeating the same thing over and over again.
INBOUND: How should you conduct your presentation? What do you do first?
Graff: Always listen to the client on what they’re looking for. I think they’ll identify the areas they’re working. Sometimes they’ll have brochures with them. They might show you the brochure, and how they use certain areas of product. You need to pick up the queues of … if they’re leading into a certain direction, then show them the products you have that would accomplish their goals and objectives. Or it could be they’re just looking for something new and interesting or expanding their products with your services. This is a chance for you to explain to them how easy it is for you to work together, how the booking procedures are going to be, how you’re able to communicate back and forth. And what forms of payment you can you can agree to with the with the buyer.
INBOUND: In the context of an environment in which touching each other is occurring less and less, how you should greet a visitor to your booth?
Graff: Well, it’s going be very interesting. Are you going to be extending your hand or not? Or is it going to be turning into an elbow bump as a way of communicating? I think that, at the end of the day, the number one form of greeting—one that you can never go wrong with—is a smile. A smile is accepted in any country around the world. Have a smile on your face as they approach you. Welcome them into the booth. Generally, it’s good for the supplier to start the conversation and to point them to a table. And then, from there, you can kind of identify exactly how the conversation is going to proceed.
INBOUND: So, what’s the essence of a presentation? What kind of material should you be prepared the buyer?
Graff: I always like to ask the client: How much did you know of our service? Or what are they looking for specifically? (They’ll identify them,) Are you a tour operator? Are you a meeting planner? What are you working on? And then you can adjust your discussion according to your presentation. I believe that less is more. Don’t think that you are going to be able to inundate someone who’s come in from halfway across the world. And if they’re going to go through 40 appointments, with everyone handing them 456-page brochures. That’s a lot of information for someone to take back. I would suggest maybe no more than a one-page flyer of some sort, or highlighting particular points.
INBOUND: How important is it to work with your DMOs and your aisle-mates?
Graff: You need to work with both of them. It’s always good to check with your DMO. Ask them what’s happening? What what new information they’re about to communicate or any specific markets that you’re trying to go after or specific clients. They may already have a relationship with someone you are going to meet with, or there may be someone with the DMO who has expertise in a specific country, such as the French or German or Italian or Chinese market. And then, they might be able to introduce you to that contact that you’re interested in touching base with. So, you have to keep them informed of the products you have so that they are identify, and they may be able to help you expedite that meeting or that face-to-contact.
You will also benefit from the suppliers who are next to you, or near you, in the same aisle, who are also exhibiting. They are there to let someone know that you are taking a bathroom break, for instance, or that you’ve gone for a coffee and will be back. It’s always great—if you’re the only one in your booth at the time—to be able to turn to a colleague in another booth and let them know that you are just stepping out for a minute.
When things begin to subside, as they do, on Wednesday, you’ll find that, since it’s always good to keep a dialogue going with a client or potential client, to have a business discussion with someone you’ve wanted to touch base with.
And be alert, even if it is just walking back to your booth with a coffee, or after lunch, during an evening functions, or during some networking time, to look at badges because you can then identify whether that person is a journalist, a supplier or a tour operator. You can tell by the color scheme.
And there’s a list of all the specific hotels where they’ve been assigned. You do see certain people that way. Find out where the delegates that you’re interested in meeting are staying. And if you can stay in the same hotel, then that provides many more contact opportunities from the elevator right up to your room, to the local bar settings, to the breakfast opportunities. You’re definitely showcasing yourself and your company to the buyer.
INBOUND: Is there real value in bringing a PR person to IPW?
Graff: If you have one on your team, then the Media Marketplace (all day on Monday) would definitely make sense. There’s no one better to speak to a reporter than someone who’s probably more media-trained than you are, knows more about them, and who is more involved in that process. Sometimes, you might be handling both sides—you might be a representative from a public relations point of view, but you also be someone who is part of the marketing team at the same time. It’s important, if you’re dealing with another colleague who might be handling public relations, for you touch base.
Sometimes, you know, when your team is handling both sides of the equation, it is good to connect with the PR representative and make sure that you know what they are launching, what is new, and what is the message you are trying to communicate. Is there a target market that they are trying to reach? Is there a new language service that you’re offering those markets? Those things, I believe, are very important and a PR person helps amplify your presence at a show. And it helps when you and your colleague are on the same page.
There are times when you might be handling both sides—your representative for your company from a public relations point of view or part of the marketing team.
So, I think it’s important if you are dealing with another colleague who might be on the side. It’s good for you guys to touch base. Ask “What are you launching?” “What’s new?” “What is the message that you’re trying to communicate? “Is there a certain target market you’re after?” “Are you expecting the PR side to be able to generate media related to the new products you’re launching for specific markets?” “Are there new language services that you’re offering those?” These things, I think, are very important in amplifying your exposure at a show. It helps when you and your colleagues are on the same page.
INBOUND: How helpful is it when helps when you are part of the host city delegation. (Graff works for a Las Vegas-based company.)
Graff: I think it’s phenomenal. But it can mean a lot of pressure on the suppliers, because people sometimes forget the logistics of running around at a trade show. Does the office know that you’re around because you’re in town? Or that you’re attending a trade show? But as far as an opportunity for the host city, it definitely showcases the city and gives you a chance to showcase your products.
INBOUND: Revisiting an earlier question, sort of, because of the coronavirus issue—How should delegates handle the traditional way that so many delegates from other countries greet one another, with a hug and a kiss on both cheeks?
Graff: You know, I think I’m going take the queues from the people who are approaching. I don’t think that it’s something to be overly concerned about. But only time will tell. It definitely doesn’t hurt to have hand wipes available. Of course, you need to be conscious of how you’re interacting with someone. If it does get more out of hand, it might be my detail to leave the business card on the table for them to pick up. But I don’t think we’re headed that way. We’ll definitely find out. My gut tells me that we’re going to see a lot of very resilient Europeans who will continue with their particular traditions. Once we’re at IPW, we’re going to have to pick up the queues of the delegates we’re meeting with and how comfortable they feel. I think, definitely, a handshake is going to get you in trouble.
I think the most important thing, regardless, is that we in the travel industry need to continue showing up at trade events and trade shows. If we’re not the ones who are traveling or if we’re not the ones attending conventions and trade shows, how can we expect the traveling public to do that? It’s an important message that delegations remain strong. That the suppliers remain strong. And this will be just another virus that we’ve gone through or another event that we’ve overcome.
INBOUND: What about follow-up? When should you do that?
Graff: For me, it’s based on when they will need the information. In my meetings with some delegates, like those from Germany, that are on a one-on-one basis, if there is a specific when-would-you-need-rates-by or when-would-you-need-the-information-by request and I am told “I need this now,” you may want to launch an e-mail with the follow-up information that night. But, as a general rule, I would say that 7-to-10 days would be a good follow-up time. Give them a chance to go back home. They can deal with the inundation of e-mails they received. And after they’ve had a chance to answer them, you can have your e-mails come in.