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Hosted BuyersISSUE 65 / ConfErEnCE & MEEtIngS World / 43The hosted buyer is a future client, not a commodity paul kennedy, mbe, kennedy consultingfrom the top: Hosted buyer meisters Ray Bloom, Paul Kennedy and Jonny SullensToday the hosted buyer is typically an agency, association or corporate buyer of accommodation, meetings space and events. Hosted buyer programmes, whether they are part of a trade show programme, a destination fam trip or a hosted site inspection, are one of the most effective elements of any business development strategy for the meetings industry. That is certainly the view of Paul Kennedy, MBE, who oversaw the Reed Travel Exhibitions hosted buyer programmes for many years. "Hosted programmes are the cornerstone of the most successful trade shows such as IMEX and the Reed 'IBTM' portfolio with EIBTM as its cornerstone," says Kennedy, who advises the Slovenian Tourism Board on the most appropriate strategy for its young MICE industry show (Conventa) which targets south-east Europe. "Small shows such as Conventa (250 international buyers) are evolving their more modest programmes to include full catering and fam trips for all who request them AND pass specific qualifying criteria," says Kennedy, who stresses the cost of these programmes can be high. "But," he says, "the potential return on investment (ROI) is much, much higher."Generally they include travel, four- or five-star accommodation, ground transfers, some business networking sessions (in some cases these are mandatory) or receptions and parties. "In exchange for this degree of hosting, which for some long haul events includes Business Class travel, buyers generally have to undertake a minimum number of pre-scheduled appointments. The issue of mandating the appointments is one of the more controversial aspects of some schemes but the harsh reality is that without some form of penalty, history shows that compliance to pre-scheduled appointments is relatively low, with as many as 33 per cent no-shows." The planner perspective can be quite different."Some senior planners believe they should be hosted without any pre-requisites, while the majority are content to do a reasonable number of appointments while having sufficient time to explore the show," says Kennedy."Some events require seven or eight 15-minute appointments per day chosen by the buyer. The reality is that, even allowing for walking between appointments, this only commits buyers to three hours of the day. I believe this is a fair balance, exchanging professional time for the not insignificant cost of hosting."Bloom says eight meetings each for buyers is a a minimum requirement at IMEX, which has a system of both group appointments and 50,000 individual, buyer-driven appointments. "It is a two-way dialogue," Bloom stresses, and notes there are also pre-show marketing opportunities for the exhibitors to reach the buyers. SMS marketing and buyer webinars are other technology driven methods of matching buyers with exhibitors.Bloom emphasises that for all the checking no system is foolproof, but says that buyers who don't conform to the minimum requirements are simply not asked again.The back office systems to deal with such a body of very demanding professionals is obviously of critical importance. Gone are the days when the appointment scheduling is done manually.Kennedy advocates using professional recruiters, hotel groups, and research companies to ensure the screening process is as good as it can be. "Some form of qualifying panel or specialist company is one of the most important elements of the whole programme," he adds. "It amazes me that the traditional bag ladies/men and the well known freeloaders still

Hosted Buyers44 / ConferenCe & Meetings World / issUe 65UBM's International Confex show in London has started to move along the hosted buyer route, with around 250 buyers being hosted in London for the 2011 edition.Show Director Jonny Sullens is keen to develop the programme and acknowledges that "IMEX and EIBTM have set the standard". It is a standard, he says, that exhibitors, particularly international destinations/DMCs and hotel groups, now demand.One key advantage of an HB programme, according to Sullens, is that "it offers both the organiser and exhibitor a transparent ROI, often before the show has actually started".His only concern with the model is that in some territories or markets exhibitors can miss out on relevant buyers because those buyers haven't either opted into the programme or booked a meeting with that particular exhibitor. "The art of 'working an aisle'," says Sullens, "gets lost, as does the opportunity for that exhibitor to meet additional buyers over and above their set appointments". His philosophy is to give exhibitors what they want: "And that is pre-booked meetings with qualified buyers," he says. "We also need to bear in mind that not all Confex visitors need or want overnight accommodation and travel (but those that do will of course be hosted in this way), so we need to look at other ways to reward our visitors for pre-booking meetings. We want to do this to enhance their experience in and around Confex and that could be through hospitality, education, business intelligence, networking opportunities or corporate gifts. This part of Confex will be run similarly to a loyalty programme with visitors able to trade up their experience by booking meetings with exhibitors."Sullens adds that, when Confex ran its focus groups post 2011 show, "it was clear that the visitors, too, like the opportunity to make the best use of their time on the showfloor by pre-booking appointments. This ensures that they can see who they want, when they want and do not spend time waiting for the required person to free up or have to talk to someone less suitable. "Having seen the work that TFI did with the Discovery Programme for what was then Visit London, we are going to work with them to deliver the International Confex 2012 programme."Trading upmanage to get onto hosted buyer programmes. I believe this is simply down to organisers and destinations believing they know what to do without employing specialists." Such a tactic, Kennedy warns, can be "cheaper up front but perversely more expensive in the long run". At Conventa, buyers not recruited through a professional recruiter are required to pay a registration fee, "designed," says Kennedy, "to ensure the well known freeloading brigade who like to drink and stuff themselves with food don't attend." "The hosted buyer is a future client not a commodity," he adds, saying that in the same way that the professional credentials of hosted buyers should be screened and a reasonable balance struck between the number of appointments and roaming time, the supply side must also step up to the plate. "Sitting on your backside and paying lip service to the buyer who arrives for the appointment is unprofessional and simply rude. It is very common, however. Some exhibitors have so many desks they make it almost impossible to get onto a stand," says Kennedy. Gripes from buyers include being herded around like cattle, and approaches more akin to selling a tourist product rather than a business solution. "Too many exhibitors talk about space, numbers and rates and fail to listen to the buyers' needs and the actual objectives of their events," Kennedy says, but stresses that if these programmes are managed properly a highly effective face-to-face business development environment is created. "The ROI from hosted buyer expenditure can be measured precisely," he adds, but warns it involves "complex work" with no room for an amateur approach. Below: Now the hotel sector supplies over half the hosted buyers to shows like IMEXOf hosted buyers will place future orders as a direct result of the showEIBTM hosTEd BuyEr prograMME By NuMBErs89%