Kongres Magazine talked to leading event organisers of B2B events in Europe to learn how industry leaders see the future. Adem Braco Suljić, MEETEX Co-Founder & Director, talked about the benefits of smaller trade shows, why the quality of hosted buyers is more important than quantity and how he sees the future of trade shows.

INTRO: Can you describe your event in four words?

Our logo already says in 4 words: »Croatian Meeting Experience Summit«, so we can use that or maybe »Boosting Croatian MICE Inspiration«, as that is actually our primary goal.

Q1: What makes your trade show stand out from the competition?

We are one of the rare B2B trade shows, if not the only one, which markets a single country as a MICE destination. Hosted buyers that are coming to MEETEX are the ones that are interested specifically and directly in Croatia, and that is one of the reasons why MEETEX succeeded in standing out, albeit it showed up on the B2B tradeshow market relatively recently. Also, we were probably the first ones that started inviting students from Economy and Tourism universities – along with their professors – to spend a day on MEETEX and see what a MICE B2B trade show looks like in a real-life situation and not only in theory. And last but not least, our selection of fam trips is always praised by hosted buyers, as everybody loves to see the MICE infrastructure on the wonderful Adriatic coast.

Q2: What are your further steps and vision to develop your event?

There are a lot of things we are missing and lacking, but not new and creative ideas. We will try to keep developing in ways, which are modern, responsible and sustainable in each and every way while still offering the best possible experience for the destination and its key market players. We have tried to be innovative since the first edition, and every year we introduce some new elements, even succeeding – according to others – in creating trends. But the main vision is still the same: both high-quality business and personal communication in a human and relaxed environment. No stress. And one very important thing: keep including the younger generations, which will soon start taking over our responsibilities.

Photo Credit: MEETEX

“The quality of hosted buyers was the key ingredient in the organisation of our B2B trade show.”

Q3: Our research has shown that exhibitors find the quality of hosted buyers most important. How do you ensure the quality of hosted buyers at your event, and what is your guarantee for the exhibitors?

From the very start, the quality of hosted buyers was the key ingredient in the organisation of our B2B trade show. However, if you want to ensure the hosted buyer will be of high quality and real potential, you have to count on a very demanding process, which is difficult even for us – and we are not new at all. Some of us have even 30+ years of experience in the industry. We combine different methods and sources and invest a lot of time and effort. I can say we are quite successful – more than 90% of hosted buyers are not only following T&C but are surpassing them, which means that the selection process was good. The post-event exhibitors’ surveys confirm it: the average grade for buyer’s quality is normally around 4,9 (out of 5), which I think is pretty good.

MEETEX only covers Croatia as a MICE destination, and as Croatia is a relatively small country, we know almost all exhibitors personally. Constant and open communication with them is as important as the first part of the selection process, sometimes even more. Jointly we can always achieve more!

And last but not least, our policy of not having the same buyers is highly appreciated by our exhibitors.

Q4: What are the conversion statistics for your shows (conversion rate)?

I am never looking for excuses, and I am not doing it now either, but the fact is that we were pretty unlucky with the circumstances around us. The first MEETEX was held in 2019, and the market simply didn’t have enough time to respond as an unthinkable scenario hit us less than a year later. On the very last day of MEETEX 2020, the WHO declared a global COVID pandemic, and the world stopped. The third and fourth editions in 2021 and 2022 were held in a very special hybrid way (online meetings and live fam trips), and the fifth one has just finished. Therefore, we are still collecting the survey data. So whatever I would say now can’t be totally and fully accurate, although we have entered KONGRES Magazine’s list of B2B tradeshows with the best ROI.

We are naturally analysing all the data we collect after every MEETEX edition, and those numbers are really good. The average satisfaction was marked with 4.85 – 4.92 (out of a maximum of 5) by both buyers and exhibitors. We have more than 90 per cent of returning exhibitors, and we have almost 90% of executed meeting slots by hosted buyers (not from the requested minimum but from the maximum available!), which is pretty rare and shows that there is a tremendous interest for Croatia. The final execution rate is again too early to measure because of previously mentioned circumstances, but we do know that there is a noticeable return for the exhibitors; otherwise, they wouldn’t come back. Prices are pretty moderate, and each exhibitor can probably obtain a full ROI after only one contract, no matter how small it might be.

Photo Credit: MEETEX

“I am personally a big fan of smaller and more intimate B2B meetings, even smaller than today’s MEETEX, but no matter my preferences, the fact is that every concept or size has its own challenges.”

Q5: Will your event stay the same size, or do you have plans to expand it?

The 2023 edition was the best one so far, with the biggest number of meetings, and high-quality hosted buyers, even from the Americas. We had super satisfied exhibitors and the best overall atmosphere. 2024 will be a bit different, but you’ll have to wait and see in which way(s). The idea that initially sparked MEETEX was to build an event which will be affordable even for small market players. And although we succeeded, we always preferred quality over quantity. At the same time, we prioritised solidarity over profit. We have never been obsessed with big numbers, and the span we have now is more than enough for the size of Croatia’s MICE market. I am personally a big fan of smaller and more intimate B2B meetings, even smaller than today’s MEETEX, but no matter my preferences, the fact is that every concept or size has its own challenges. Right now, we are still talking with market stakeholders and doing the in-depth analysis of both this year’s event as well as of the complete 5-yr series. Yes, everybody is happy with what we achieved during the last five years, but let’s see if we can make the MEETEX path better – where »better« in my eyes definitely doesn’t equal bigger.

Q6: We liked to draw parallels with the past during the corona crisis. What have we learned from the past to make our industry better and more responsible towards the environment and attendees?

Well, I think that the pandemic taught us more than what we are aware of. There are things that we adopted as obvious ones, but I think there are much more things that we accepted and learned on a subconscious level. They might not change our lives but they did open some new horizons. Sustainability and environmental accountability are only some of them. The phrase »the world has changed« is not just a phrase. I would say that we definitely learned that we can respond to a new reality and find ways – for example, having online alternatives when necessary – but today, nobody can argue that we are social beings. There is no way we will stop wanting to travel and socialize. Yet we have to learn how to use the available technology in the right amount because technology is one of the most important factors to help preserve the environment.

Responsibility towards attendees was always there. I remember how people were staring at us when we were placing medical grade hand sanitisers in 1-litre bottles on each meeting table during MEETEX 2023 – and will remain so, but we also learned quite a few lessons in that sense too. The resilience factor today is obviously higher than before, and security measures we didn’t have in mind before are now understood as normal. Nobody has a crystal ball, but we do have some very new and important experiences; why not say wisdom?

Photo Credit: MEETEX

Q7: What are your priorities for creating a carbon-neutral meetings industry? Can you illustrate with concrete examples implemented at your event?

We can have a lot of priorities, but the main question is how will we implement them and will it be properly supported by our attendees? In that sense, we have to focus on creating awareness. Once we’ve achieved that, everything will be easier. The most important MEETEX 2023 contribution was joining the FrauBlau DSG6 initiative for saving the wetlands. One of its slogans is »Take your own drinking bottle when travelling«, so we gifted all the participants a glass bottle and encouraged them to use tap water from dispensers instead of bottled water and glasses; in that way, we saved not only on plastics but also on water and detergent for washing the glasses. We also didn’t print brochures and instead used the app. We served coffee in recyclable cups, and we placed all the participants in only two hotels very close to each other so we could reduce the negative impact of transfers. It is not much, but every step in the right direction counts. Hopefully, the local infrastructure will soon include more trains, which will help solve the biggest problem – air travel.

Q8: Which event in the meetings industry do you see as the benchmark and why?

In terms of sustainability, I have to say that Conventa took a really huge step and can serve as an example. Therefore, my sincere congrats on that. Slovenia was always perceived as green, and Conventa’s efforts are just re-confirming that. In terms of events in general, I really don’t have a favourite or a single event I am looking at. Copy-paste is just not my thing. I think it is normal that we, as organisers of meetings for meeting professionals, are expected to keep the bar very high. And although I do have big respect for other events, for me, the benchmarks are to set benchmarks for others: to innovate further, to understand new realities and to be completely open to new ideas. And naturally, to have perfect planning and execution. Luckily, the MEETEX team can deliver exactly that.

Photo Credit: MEETEX

“Our meetings industry is definitely on the right side of history.”

Q9: What are your thoughts on the so-called table-top concept, now prevalent among B2B events? Is this enough for an immersive experience that will satisfy attendees? What are the benefits of such a concept compared to classic exhibitor stands at large trade shows?

I am a part of the generation which still vividly remembers big exhibitions on city fairgrounds. It was more B2C than B2B…. and it was before the internet. Today, when the whole world is in our pocket, the future of such happenings is already pretty uncertain. In our niche, where we are actually limited to B2B, I sincerely think that large tradeshow with big exhibitor stands will soon become a thing of the past. Doing things BIG today costs not only a lot of money but also has serious consequences on the environment. And if we know that the same result – even better – can be obtained with a table-top concept. From my point of view, there is no doubt. Besides, if we talk about MICE B2B, I am absolutely sure that no buyer will choose Destination X for their future event because X’s stand was the biggest or most impressive in the fair pavilion. People come to meet people, network, spend time together, and have fun. That is the real experience alongside the true micro destination immersion during fam trips.

Q10: Can you name one core problem you believe the global meetings industry should tackle together?

It is really hard to identify a single problem we should tackle because the world is a complex, unjust and sometimes even scary place. Concentrating on one problem would surely be the most efficient, but I don’t see an easy way of picking the right one. What comforts me is that our meetings industry is definitely on the right side of history because we, the ones shaping it, are trying to facilitate the necessary conditions for bringing people together and helping them to share knowledge and experience. We should maybe reach out to the ones in a bigger need, but that is a subject which requires much, much broader discussion. In the meantime, I can do nothing else but agree with Gorazd: Power to the meetings, and let’s continue connecting people!

Learn more about MEETEX here

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