It’s the travel industry equivalent to an eternal debate: do you, as a busy and successful travel advisor, really have time to attend that upcoming trade show?
For most, the answer is “no,” and that’s unfortunate, because the average travel trade show can actually serve as a stepping stone to a host of valuable opportunities – when handled correctly.
Here are a few tips on how to turn your next trade show from a source of stress to a smashing success.
Go in with a plan
Whether you feel it’s useful or not, most travel advisors will attend trade shows – either out of habit or because they feel obligated – without really having an idea of what they want to get out of the experience. Before spending a few hours, or sometimes, an entire day stumbling between endless aisles of booths, banners and smiling faces, determine one thing you’d like to accomplish by the end of the day. It could be posing popular product questions on behalf of your clients, or simply getting some face time with a new sales director – but deciding on a goal will give you something to strive for, and help narrow your focus moving forward.
Do what turns you on
Sure, you could zigzag from table to table, filling your tote bag with pamphlets and pens until you can barely stand. Or, you could preview supplier lists, product training and panel talks on the show’s website, then plan your day around topics and meetings that will help you become better at what you do. Concentrating on topics and connections as they align with your interests or specialties is the first step to staying ahead in your field, and there’s no better way to accomplish that than getting in valuable face time with your favourite supplier.
Embrace the machines
The days of stepping into a hotel ballroom with little more than a map as your guide are coming to an end. More and more conferences and trade shows are turning to smartphone apps, memory sticks and digital tools to help attendees make the most of their time on the floor. Many of these innovations are especially handy when it comes to organizing your time, previewing choice talks, and cataloguing contact information for easy post-event follow-ups. Some programs even allow users to build personal profiles, pre-chat with potential contacts, and connect to social media for agent live-sharing interactions with clients.
Put a cap on the card collecting
We’ve all been there: returning home after a long day on the trade show floor only to realize that the trunk of your car is bursting with business cards. And since it’s unlikely you’ll follow up on all the contacts you receive, breaking the habit of bringing home every business card only makes sense. While at the show, keep a separate pocket or folder handy for cards belonging to a person you’ve actually exchanged words with (rather than a curt nod and handshake) in order to ensure the task of cataloguing all that new information is somewhat manageable in the days to come. Do you gather cards indiscriminately out of fear you’ll miss a potential opportunity? Don’t be. In the unlikely event where you find yourself wishing for the name or e-mail of a supplier you can’t recall, Google (or more likely, the show’s handy event app) will have your back.
Take care of you
Hours on your feet in a chilly, windowless convention space can take a toll. Wear professional clothes that fit well and feel comfortable. Pack a sweater (even in summer, the air conditioning at some hotels can be lethal), add insoles to your shoes for some much-needed extra support, and take frequent water and snack breaks. It may seem like simple advice, but if you’re on a roll attending talks and taking names, it can be easy to lose track of the time. Besides, if you can spend your energy on networking and training sessions until everyone else is frozen, thirsty and exhausted, the crowds around the most popular booths will eventually clear, leaving you with that coveted one-on-one introduction.
This piece was brought to you by Air Canada, as part of the airline’s ongoing efforts to support travel agents. ACTA members click here to access Air Canada’s ACTA Training program for agencies.