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Hosted Buyer Programs – Changing the Landscape in 2011

Busy director of sales & marketing doing his annual budget
This is the time of year that meeting industry suppliers sequester themselves for days to hammer out their annual budget and marketing plan.  With the changing landscape for meeting industry tradeshows in 2011, I wonder what hotel, CVB and convention center plans will include?

New U.S. Tradeshows

MPI will no longer have MeetDifferent in the winter, and its World Education Congress in July will not have a tradeshow component.  Instead, MPI has thrown its support behind IMEX, a hosted buyer program to be held Oct. 11-13, 2011 in Las Vegas.  ASAE and DMAI have endorsed this new show.

The Convention Industry Council and PCMA have lent their education support to the Reed Travel Group, organizers of EIBTM (Barcelona, Spain); GIBTM (Abu Dhabi, UAE), CIBTM (Beijing, China) and AIME (Melbourne, Australia) who are bringing their hosted buyer show format to North America; AIBTM will be June 21-23 in Baltimore.

But it’s not a clear-cut MPI vs. PCMA situation as PCMA is also listed as a “supporting partner” for IMEX.  SITE, ICCA and AIPC seem to be playing safe too by supporting both events.

Pricing for the new shows is not for the faint-hearted. At $92-$110 per square foot, IMEX is the most expensive.  AIBTM is listed as a mere $68 per sq. ft.  These prices of course are “plus-plus” with shipping, drayage, electrical, furniture rental, and all the other usual tradeshow costs.

But as fellow meeting industry blogger Jeff Hurt asked in a recent post, “Are hosted buyer programs just reinvented timeshare prize promises or are they the magical silver bullet for an ailing tradeshow industry?”

While I do believe something needs to be done to revitalize the way business is done in the meetings industry, the hosted buyer format is not a silver bullet.  (Is there ever such a thing?) The biggest change I think needs to take place with suppliers expecting that just showing up at a tradeshow should guarantee them business. The biggest improvement with these new shows I think will be that the appointment format will force suppliers to put more time into pre-show preparation, something they should have been doing in the first place...

Jeff also asked if hosted buyer programs are “ethical and worth attending.” I remember that a few years ago, with the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation hoopla, many corporations would not have even allowed their American buyers to attend a hosted show.  But I guess now the recession has made it OK for many to save money by being hosted…

But let’s not forget that the hosting is not a guarantee; planners must meet minimum business criteria.  So I wonder where this leaves smaller buyers or those who cannot plan meetings outside the U.S.? (IMEX says that hosted US buyers “should place business internationally as well as domestically”).

And what about the smaller suppliers?  Those who cannot afford these big shows?  Will we see a resurgence of smaller tradeshows or showcases?  Will local MPI chapters use this as an opportunity to organize regional tradeshows? Maybe CVBs will opt to organize sales missions or host events in planners’ own cities?
I see a lot of fragmentation ahead and my thoughts are with those poor DOSMs who must sift through it all!