Hosted Buyer Programs That Work

By Cathy Breden, CAE, CMP
CEIR Managing Director

Each year I’m impressed by two organizers who have very successfully fine-tuned a hosted buyer program – IMEX Group, which organizes worldwide exhibitions for the incentive travel, meetings and events industry in Europe and the USA, and Reed Travel Exhibitions, which organizes exhibitions for the same market in the U.S., Europe, China, and India. Both have created a model that seems to work.

In a report from the CEIR study on the Role and Value of Face-to-Face Interaction, only 32 percent of attendees and 25 percent of exhibitors report participating in a hosted buyer event in the past two years. The perceived value of participating in a hosted buyer event is not as strong as it is for traditional business-to-business exhibitions. In looking out to the next two years, only 27 percent of attendees who have attended such an event report that hosted buyer events are expected to increase in value compared to 43 percent of professionals who have attended a traditional business-to-business exhibition. The same holds true for exhibitors, only 21 percent of exhibitors at hosted buyer events anticipate the value for these events will increase in value while 37 percent of exhibitors at business-to-business exhibitions expect value to increase.

Research by the American Society of Association Executives Foundation offers insights on the perceived lower importance of hosted buyer events. In a study in conjunction with Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, The Center for Hospitality Research recently released a research paper, Current and Emerging Trends of Tradeshows, An Assessment of Stakeholders’ Preferences. The paper examines the core reasons for both attendees and exhibitors participating in trade shows and what their motivations are for participating. The ASAE paper noted that respondents, even if they attended more than one hosted buyer event, rated this type of event a low importance attribute, 17th of exhibitors and 14th among attendees.

The two hosted events I am most familiar with – the IMEX and Reed events – provide for small group conversations/presentations, yet according to the CEIR study when given a choice, neither exhibitors nor attendees rank this type of face-to-face interaction as their first or second choice, 11% and 17%, respectively. One-on-one demonstrations with exhibit personnel are most preferred, 86 % by exhibitors and 76% by attendees. Yet, because of the sheer size of hosted buyer events, one-on-one conversations are difficult. Both the IMEX and Reed events have surrounded the exhibition with education, which is highly valued among attendees.

IMEX attributes 12 years of ideas to its success. Reed Travel Exhibitions has been conducting hosted buyer events the longest. Perhaps the smartest thing both of these companies did was to collaborate with industry organizations around the world. Both have also situated education developed by these industry organizations around the shows.

Industry collaborations, along with education, and even more importantly highly qualified buyers seem to be the recipe for success. The exhibitors value this high density audience, even though the cost of exhibiting is substantially higher than traditional business-to-business exhibitions. They must see the value and achieve their ROI or they wouldn’t be back year after year.

I’m interested in hearing from attendees on their points of view on hosted buyer events, and of course from exhibitors on the value versus the traditional event.

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