Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Trade Shows & Forums

Because I have a limited amount of money to spend on trade shows and travel forums I have traditionally limited myself to two major events. I try and attended at least one OSSN sponsored Home Based Travel Agent Forum and Trade Show and one CLIA Cruise3Sixty.

These two events fit the bill for my needs.  That, however is changing. The Home Based Agents Forums has, while embracing technology, remained true to its constituency, i.e, the travel agent. The forum meets most of my needs for meeting suppliers, networking and learning the trends in the various travel sectors.

Hence, the forum with its classes, seminars, workshops, panels and speakers are relevant to what I do as a travel consultant. The Trade show allows me to speak with the suppliers whose products I promote and sell as I discover new suppliers and trade support companies. The only thing missing is a strong cruise line representation and CLIA certified courses both of which I personally would like to see present.

CLIA on the other hand has embraced technology but not to enhance the Travel Agent and Cruise Consultants experience. They have embraced it for convenience, efficiency and cost cutting.

To be sure they still have the Trade Show, the classes, and the dinners. What they no longer have is the in person ship inspections. Instead all ship inspections will be virtual (virtual is just another word for "not real"). Just send me the tour on a USB Flash Drive and I'll view it at my convienence and as often as I like.

A virtual ship inspection is the next best thing to an actual ship inspection. However, you only want the next best thing when the best thing is no longer doable. It's like having a virtual girl friend. She looks good but she has no real personality and you can't really interact with her. In the case of CLIA that means no more "onboard" ship inspections. It means that cruise3sixty, perhaps the most popular and successful industry specific trade show created gives way to cruisExcellence and virtual ship inspections.

What does that mean to me, the cruise consultant/travel agent. It means that by-in-large the spending of my hard earned cash on airfare, hotel, meals etc. is no longer necessary. From now on, when it comes to learning about cruises and the various cruise ships I'll rely on personal cruises, virtual ship inspections on CD or USB Flash Drives. It means instead of needing a classroom in Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, or Vancouver I'll just take the course online, attended a local class or go to a particular cruise lines' travel agent website.

The only thing that I see remaining at these events of any value that can't be obtained in other places at a more leisure pace is personal face-to-face networking. But I've solved that problem I'll just attend two OSSN sponsored Home Based Travel Agent Forums and Trade Shows instead of just one.

I suggest that if the cruise lines want their sales reps, BDM's and corporate people to actually meet and influence the people actually selling their product and not just the CEO of some hosting agency, OTA or Consortium who don't sell or service a single product themselves they best get a booth at one of these shows.

Some will say that the Virtual Ship Inspections are better than the "In Person" Ship Inspections because the agent will see "all" the features of the ship. My answer to that is that what the agent will see is a sterile view of the ship and a crew who know they are on parade. By personally boarding a ship for an inspection the agent gets a "feel" for the entire guest experience. We not only learn about the features of the ship but we get to first hand observe how the crew relates to guests, the quality of the food, the accessibility of services and, most importantly, which of our clients best fit a given ship.

The virtual tour does not give a true picture of the sights and sounds of a ship. It only shows the structure. One cannot assume the value of the wine simply because it is in a pretty bottle. Just as the wine must be tasted to learn its value, the ship has to be personally experienced to truly know what a cruise experience on a given ship should be.

So, the long and the short of the matter is that I'll see my fellow Travel Agents in Orlando in October at the Home Based Travel Agent Forum and Trade Show October and will skip the cruisExellence there in June.