ABA, NTA Vie for Buyers & Sellers Attention at Competing Events
To quote Yogi Berra, it was déjà vu all over again this January as the American Bus Association and National Tour Association conventions battled for trade show supremacy. Who won? Who lost?
ABA certainly stole the spotlight with its early January date. Eager to shed the holidays, over 3,000 delegates came ready to do business in Charlotte. I felt a definite buzz around this year’s event, the marketplace was lively, and other than 40% of the attendees who were either coming down with something, had something or were getting over something, spirits were high. Supplier quips surfaced about non-qualified buyers who seemingly didn’t run group tours but were still taking appointments. Though many gripe that 7-minute appointments are too short, it’s dead air when the person sitting across from you isn’t selling tours.
NTA’s Travel Exchange – a new joint show with the United Motorcoach Association (UMA) – in contrast felt like a let-down even though it was smack dab in the middle of the Sunshine State, Orlando. Why? Mostly because we had just seen many of these folks two weeks before. The running joke was “what did you do last week?” Even some of the programming was repetitive, like the Broadway.com luncheon which featured a repeat performance by most of the same cast that appeared at a similarly formatted ABA luncheon. Great entertainment – yes. Did we all need to see it again to get re-fired up about Broadway – probably not.
The rub on NTA was buyer appointment no-shows which reached a chronic level of up to 50% for some DMO’s. The upside? Better quality buyers. NTA operators are broader in scope and larger than ABA’s, so if you like quality over quantity, you’ll get it here. NTA’s other advantage was the bus operators who wandered over from the UMA side to kick the tires of tour suppliers. We talked to a few coach companies that were looking to get into the tour business, and while I wouldn’t call these fertile prospects quite yet, NTA has an opportunity to use this new event as a breeding ground for converting coach companies into tour operators, provided they put together a stronger educational platform. Ironically, if you look back at the history of ABA, it started as a bunch of bus guys who really didn’t know very much about running tours. How history repeats itself.
Battle Heats up in 2015
Next year shouldn’t be a huge issue, as NTA’s Travel Exchange moves to mid-February in Los Angeles, but in 2015, these organizations’ shows are 5 days apart, and while New Orleans wins the sexy contest over St. Louis, you can expect the battle to get quite heated as these organizations vie for trade show supremacy. The stakes couldn’t be higher, as associations derive, on average, 65% of their annual revenues from conferences & conventions.
Because these shows are so similar in nature, ultimately it will be the buyers who decide who wins. What are the better locations? Where can they connect with operators and destinations that fit their business profile and where do the better educational opportunities reside? I’m not convinced that the industry will support both shows, and certainly with the litany of other events in the first quarter – a half dozen regional and niche market shows fall in and around these two events; someone’s going to drown in the wake of this trade show tidal wave.