Richard Barnes, Worldwide Events
Photo credit: Worldwide Events

Kongres Magazine talked to several organizers of boutique trade shows on the nature of their business, as well as on the recent Corona virus and its effect on the business, the prospects, and solutions. We present the interview with Richard Barnes.


Q: What separates your trade shows from the competition?

The quick answer is: Purpose. We’ve always strived to develop the trade show of the future. We are constantly looking to improve the way that the industry comes together to meet, to learn, to do business and enjoy themselves. We have been highly innovative both in terms of event concepts/formats and in developing the technology needed to deliver these experiences.

We started to run trade shows in 2005 because we wanted to offer the industry an alternative to the only trade shows that existed at the time – the big exhibitions. We felt that the way in which the MICE industry was coming together needed to be invigorated and that gave birth to our event concept: get the right people together, take them to inspiring places and give them a productive, enjoyable and memorable experience together. We call it the M&I Forum.

We did this by running much smaller and more intimate events, which saw a controlled delegate list of buyers and suppliers connect through carefully managed meeting programmes to create a fully-rounded relationship building experience. This led to attendees having more meetings, doing better business, quickly making new friends and having great fun in top MICE destinations.

Over the past decade, we’ve seen many more trade show companies appear that run smaller events similar to ours. We see that as a good thing, firstly it’s very flattering, and secondly, it can only be positive that there are more diverse options for the industry to meet.

Technology has always been central to our events. How can we use technology to help bring people together for the best possible human to human (H2H) connections? We’ve led the field in this respect over the last decade, developing our own apps and 1-2-1 meeting software because nothing on the market did it well enough for us. This year, we’ve introduced another first for the industry – a 1-2-1 meeting trade show powered by AI matchmaking technology.

So, think how Netflix suggests what you might like to watch, how Amazon suggests what you might want to buy, how Google knows what you might want to search for, how Tinder suggests who you might want to date. The same technology is now applied to matchmaking at our Forums. By learning about people’s business needs, likes and dislikes, we take the guesswork out of meetings and help our attendees to have better meetings, and in turn, better relationships.

Any destinations and venues that want to have a future in the MICE sector will need to embrace sustainability far more seriously than they have done in the last few years.

Q: How do you market and promote the host destination?

Hostinng one of our events is a huge marketing opportunity for any host destination. The elite of the MICE industry spend 3 or 4 days experiencing the destination’s main MICE highlights. It’s so much more relevant than a fam trip for example, not just in  scale but also because the buyers get to experience how the destination, the venues, the DMCs, the caterers and all the other service providers actually deliver a live event for several hundred people. That is a unique and priceless opportunity.

In addition, our team works closely with all key partners to create a fully-integrated marketing campaign that starts running about 12 months before the event and continues after the event, promoting that destination to our entire global community.

Q: What are the conversion statistics for your shows (conversion rate)?

On average, suppliers receive 5.2 RFPs at our European Forums, while our American Forums typically see 7.5 RFPs per supplier. We’re very fortunate to have a number of loyal buyers and suppliers, and it’s clear they return year-after-year, not only for the networking experience but because of the great value we offer their business. Our suppliers see great ROI, whilst buyers have 3 days to meet some of the world’s leading hotels, CVBs and DMCs in both established and upcoming MICE destinations.

worldwide events
Photo credit: Worldwide Events

Q: Many fraudulent activities online are trying to trick trade show guests into getting money and ID from them by promising them data or other fake services. How do you tackle the problem of safety that arises with this kind of criminal activities online?

It’s definitely a growing issue for the industry, and there’s no quick fix. We’re fortunate that our Forums are invite-only, which allows us to build up a personal connection with every attendee and communicate directly with them – from initial contact to well after the Forum. We make it very clear that they should only engage with us, and if a third party is required to get in touch with them, they will be notified of this well in advance.

All of our clients have a designated Account Manager or Customer Service Assistant who they will get to know and trust, so if they were to notice something suspicious – such as a fake invoice or request for personal details – they’re able to speak to us directly to ensure it’s legitimate.  We’re always looking at new ways to create the safest online environment for our clients, but for me, providing a clear timeline of event communications helps to highlight any obvious online scams.

Our CRM, websites and communication platforms are, of course, constantly updated with the latest security software to ensure our clients’ personal information is in safe hands. We encourage all attendees to flag any fraud related instances, so we can investigate further. But as I said, this is a problem for the whole industry, so we have to hope our clients are also taking the necessary precautions to stay safe online.

Q: To which event in the meetings industry do you look up to and why?

I’ve got to give credit to every industry event because what we do isn’t easy! But if I have to pick one, I think that IMEX does a good job. I think it’s very hard to keep a large scale exhibition an attractive proposition in these changing times when delegates are so much more demanding, and when there are such good alternative events that are able to offer so much more of a varied, creative and immersive experience. In my book, IMEX does a better job of that than the other big shows.

Hosting a trade show is so much more relevant than a fam trip …

Q: Without a doubt, the current situation with Corona outbreak is one of the biggest challenges this industry has ever encountered  … how are you planning to save your trade show during and after the Corona crisis?

What we are experiencing right now is unprecedented and is evolving at such a pace that we have never before had to plan, and re-plan as quickly as we are currently needing to do. All that we can do for the time being is be as flexible and fast as possible to change plans as and when needed, communicate as well as we possibly can with our community and, as a business, hibernate until the pandemic passes. We will be ready to run events again as soon as the world is ready to start moving and we are optimistic that there will be a good bounce to be felt when that time comes. In the meantime, we intend to keep our community connected through virtual meetings, discussion groups and even social activities. We look forward to the day when we emerge from this and can meet in person once more at live events, but we believe that a growth in virtual meetings will be a big part of our future and we will soon be announcing some exciting plans for how we’ll deliver them.

Q: Are you planning to stay the same size or to expand or …?

I think in the short term our aim right now is to stay the same size but at this point in time, it’s simply too soon to tell what the future holds. Future expansion would, of course, be great when the time is right!

Q: In your opinion, how will the industry’s character change or develop after the crisis?

I’m confident that the world of corporate group travel will return and be hugely successful once more. I also feel that this crisis will be the springboard needed for digital / virtual meetings / conferencing to really become a significant feature of the overall meetings landscape. I think the industry will take a great step forward towards sustainable meetings. Obviously, this is entirely compatible with the first point about digital, but I expect to see a rapid increase in the environmental consciousness of live events too.

Q: What steps should be taken (on the local, regional, state, political, economy level, etc.) in order to preserve the industry and its employment?

Any destinations and venues that want to have a future in the MICE sector will need to embrace sustainability far more seriously than they have done in the last few years. Very quickly, corporations will make this a prerequisite selection criteria and any destinations and venues who do not tick that box will quickly drop out of the market.

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