The right buyers

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Ray Bloom Chairman, IMEX Group "A well-planned hosted buyer programme offers a guarantee of both high quality and planned numbers of buyers to a show. While useful, hosted buyer programmes are not always essential: Outside the meetings industry, I expect them to be minimal. In the case of our IMEX events, where we have 4,000 hosted buyers coming to Frankfurt (and 2,000 to Las Vegas), we have higher staffing levels than any other part of the organisation. That infrastructure also includes many online tools and processes – our unique appointment system, messaging and automated flight refunds to name a few. That said, it is our team’s experience and knowledge that provides ultimate quality control. The most essential ingredient is the quality of the buyers. We mostly work through intermediaries such as hotel groups, publications, trade associations and our representatives. We then have qualification processes prior to buyers being accepted. With IMEX Frankfurt, hosted buyers spend an average 12 hours on the show floor. This compares to less than half that time for trade visitors, of which we normally have about 5,000. Hosted buyers are committed to a certain number of appointments with exhibitors prior to the show (we do not ‘match-make’). They make about 50,000 pre-arranged appointments. In Frankfurt, 80 per cent of hosted buyers attend from Europe. At IMEX America, 80 per cent come from North America. The hosted buyer programme has evolved a great deal since we first created it in 1988. Back then, we managed all applications by hand. Although you would expect technology to have reduced our reliance on staff, the fact is it frees staff up to spend time on the higher value parts of the programme. They no longer have to correct so many travel, accommodation or visa errors but instead can invest in checking buyer credentials and applying our strict criteria. For example, we ‘requalify’ every application every year. This attention to detail is extremely important for our exhibitors and also for our reputation."June ClarkeManager, hosted buyer programmes, Meetings and events portfolio, Reed Travel Exhibitions "We believe a hosted buyer programme is a core element of our IBTM events portfolio as it successfully secures attendance of more than 6,000 top-level buyers to the shows each year.  It’s also a key USP as it guarantees a concentrated amount of top-level buyers at each of our shows, which in turn attracts and delivers business opportunities to all participating exhibitors. But the status of such a programme depends on the organiser.  Ours is based on quality rather than quantity. We will never jeopardise this key brand value in favour of accepting anyone onto our programmes. Everyone who applies is reviewed against a number of criteria to ensure only those with real buying power are accepted. This includes quantifying the number of international events held annually, purchasing authority, budget, the amount of business conducted internationally and their reasons for attending. In order to achieve such quality, we have an international team based at RTE’s offices globally and at UK headquarters working with group coordinators, ground handlers and strategic partners.      A typical hosted buyer programme for an IBTM event includes complimentary flights, 4- or 5-star accommodation, hotels and the exhibition venue, exclusive access to hosted buyer lounges, an education programme and participation in networking events. Each qualified buyer also receives a personal itinerary of appointments with exhibitors based on their own selections made prior to the show. The number of business appointments depends on the size and duration of the event. Hosted buyers attending EIBTM, for example, have seven Pre-Scheduled Appointments (PSAs) and one destination presentation per day of attendance. Education is a key component of all IBTM events and there are specific sessions for hosted buyers from the corporate, agency or association sectors. Networking is another crucial element and many shows have an ‘icebreaker’ event exclusive to hosted buyers the night before opening. So yes, we do need hosted buyer programmes to really help deliver ROI at our events."James SamuelEvent manager, International Confex, UBM "More and more UBM events, not just International Confex, are introducing hosted buyer programmes. The visibility it gives you on the interactions between your biggest customers and their biggest potential customers is hugely valuable and a fantastic way of proving ROI. In the meetings industry show sector this is not new, as EIBTM and IMEX have run successful hosted buyer delegations for years. In addition, the exhibition hosted buyer programme is not dissimilar to the Richmond/McLean Events way of doing business by hiring a yacht or luxury resort where top decision makers are invited in return for committing to sponsors’ meetings. International Confex 2012 was the first time we ran a programme with any sort of scale – over 5,000 meetings through the system – which we badged as a loyalty programme. This was for the simple reason that while we wanted the buyers to book meetings with our exhibitors, there was no need to host them to the extent IMEX or EIBTM do in terms of travel. So we gave them other benefits around their show experience (lunch, accommodation, reserved theatre seating and so on). The quality of hosted buyers is absolutely key as there are some proficient freeloaders in the meetings industry. The system we used allowed exhibitors to turn down meeting requests, which was a quality control in itself, but we will look to extend this for 2013 by running every request past a group of experienced exhibitors. The perennial hate of every organiser is the no-show and we did experience a few on Confex. The best way an organiser can protect themselves is by imposing penalties, which we will do next year. Another challenge is that in some cases a hosted buyer model encourages lacklustre exhibiting. Exhibitors with full diaries of appointments sometimes fail to work the aisles of the show, put less effort into incentivising visitors to their stand and therefore miss out on an even better returns. Following our success in 2012, we are looking to significantly increase investment in our loyalty programme. We are also keen to extend the programme throughout the year so we can continue spending time with key decision makers and give introductions to our exhibitors." This was first published in the May edition of Exhibition News. Any comments? Email exhibitionnews@mashmedia.net
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