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Attending Marketplaces – Part 1

When marketing your property or service, face-to-face contact with a potential buyer can be an effective sales tool. Both parties can learn something about one another and decide if they can do business. While it is desirable to go to a buyer’s place of business, making individual sales calls can be expensive and time-consuming. A more affordable option may be attending a marketplace.

A marketplace is “an exposition, not open to the public, held for members of a particular industry, where buyers and sellers meet to conduct business, typically through prescheduled appointments.” In the case of the hospitality industry a buyer is a tour operator, motorcoach company, or group leader. A seller is a hotel, restaurant, tourist attraction, museum, visitor bureau, etc. Depending on the marketplace, the sellers may set up booths which buyers visit, such as Heartland Travel Showcase. Or buyers may have a booth which sellers visit, such as American Bus Association or National Travel Association

It is not cheap to attend a marketplace. First there is the expense of attending the marketplace. There is also the cost of travel, room and food. You may also need to consider the cost of a display booth and the cost of booth shipping, printed materials, show give-aways, etc. It can be expensive, but, the cost of a magazine ad can also be expensive. By selling face-to-face you can go beyond marketing and hopefully close some sales.

At a marketplace sellers can talk to real, live clients. This can reinforce existing relationships and establish new one. A supplier can “pick operators brains” and learn what tour operator clients need. You can network with other suppliers earning what works for them. Check out other supplier’s literature. See what there are doing that is unique or innovative you might use. Learn about your competition. But most importantly, SELL your business.

In a business that is based on relationships, selling your business, means sales short-term, medium-term, and long-term sales. While you may not make a sale the first year you attend a marketplace, attending year after year gets name and face recognition. And operators are also looking for something “new” to do. And don’t forget to follow-up after the marketplace with a phone call or periodic newsletter.

How do you know which marketplace to attend? Look at what you have to sell. Who’s your market? Ask colleagues or the visitors bureau in your area. Talk honestly to the marketplace sponsor and don’t be afraid to ask for referrals of past participants.

How do you know if your marketplace was worth the cost? Add your total costs and compare with bookings generated during the marketplace or within 3 to 6 months after the marketplace. This is one measure of your ROI – return on investment. However, just like advertising, frequency makes a difference. Don’t attend a marketplace once and give up if you don’t get sales the first time. Try to attend the same marketplace at least 2 or 3 times before looking for other ways to market your property.