Editor's note: With WTM 2016 just a few weeks away, we'd thought it'd be great to share some networking tips from Olan O'Sullivan, our VP of Marketing and seasoned conference attendee. These tips were previously published in our Marketing 102 ebook.
Deciding to attend a travel conference can be a big decision. They're expensive, they take you away from the office and you might not be sure if you're big enough to even consider it.
Let's deal with the expense first
Yes. Travel conferences can be expensive. However, there are ways to access them without paying a king's ransom.
The major costs are for exhibitors, i.e. people who take a stand. If you want to just go and network, listen to some talks, and generally see what's going on in the travel industry, most events are affordable. Take the big two: ITB Berlin and the World Travel Market (WTM) in London. To get a trade pass at ITB, you pay €50. And at WTM it's free. So expense is no excuse not to attend.
Of course, you do have travel costs and living expenses to consider, but these are also manageable. Airbnb provides a host of affordable options in major cities such as Berlin and London, and if you plan in advance, flights to these locations are not that expensive.
Exhibiting is expensive business
If you do want to exhibit, this is quite an investment. Yet it can often be justified on business grounds. Take TrekkSoft. We exhibited at ITB in Berlin this year...our first time. This was a big decision for the company, but one we think paid off with the business leads generated at the conference. We also decided not to exhibit in the Technology section and instead placed ourselves in the Adventure Hall, much closer to our customers. It proved a real hit.
Also, there is a back door to exhibiting...through your tourism board. Many tourism boards will want to showcase their suppliers to give international tour operators a flavour of what their country has to offer. Find out in advance if there are any packages available to attend a conference relevant to you.
Next up: being away from the office
For me, this is a complete misnomer as most of these events are timed to coincide with seasonal off peaks. And no matter how busy you are, you should always have room for taking some time off to take a step back and reflect.
Conferences are brilliant for this. You can get inspired by different products in other regions, seek out new business opportunities, and meet new people. It's all part of the fun of the travel industry.
Are you too small to go to a travel conference?
In other industries, sometimes the small fish are better off leaving conferences to the big guys. But in tourism, diversity is the name of the game. Tour operators around the world are looking for unique products and more direct relationships with suppliers.
Being at a conference puts you in the shop window and is great way to create long standing partnerships. It's also a way to understand industry trends, what technology can help your business stay ahead of the competition, and what consumer trends you should be aware of (Snapchat seemed to be the buzzword at ITB - don't worry, I don't understand it either).
When you decide to go to a conference, it is important that you are prepared
Seek out the people you want to meet in advance. If there is an attendee list, search for who you would like to talk to, find them on LinkedIn, and try to connect with them beforehand. It’s a great ice breaker and they will appreciate the personal touch.
Set meetings with them. Plan the talks you want to go to and schedule them in your calendar. This will make the experience more enjoyable. And you can even find out where the parties are in advance.
Make sure to be as open as possible to meeting new people. Introduce yourself to the person beside you at talks, and if you can, try and get invited to speak at an event or sit on a panel. This is a fantastic way to generate PR and increase your credibility.
Don't forget to follow-up with your new contacts
Firstly, you'll need to have a strategy for business cards - collecting them and deciding what to do with them after the event. For the most part, we use apps to scan and store them. It makes it easier to retrieve information later on too.
Then, make sure to follow up by email and by phone if possible. What’s the point in all that effort and planning if you don’t follow through?
My suggestion is to use mail merges to quickly send out personalised emails to a lot of people. Summarise your conversation and give them the information they were looking for. You could use apps like Streak or Boomerang to help you out. Alternatively, you could create a sequence of emails to follow up, or add your new contacts into an existing sequence.
Finally, remember to enjoy yourself! Good luck!
What's your biggest concern when attending a large conference like WTM or ITB Berlin? Let us know in the comments below.
We'll be at WTM 2016 this November and we'd love to meet you! Drop by our stand or set up a meeting with us.
Written by Olan O'Sullivan
Olan is our VP of Marketing and the regional manager for the UK and Ireland.