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Getting The Most From Heartland Travel Showcase

Participating in a marketplace is a big investment in budget and time. And just like any financial investment, marketplace exhibitors need to do their homework to assure there is a return on your marketplace investment. The return on investment typically means a “paying customer through your front door – short-term, medium-term, and long-term.” An event like Heartland Travel Showcase is a major selling opportunity that can hold solid potential for future bookings. The following are designed to help you get the most from Heartland Travel Showcase Marketplace. (Even if you are not attending the marketplace, suppliers receiving leads from their local Visitors Bureau or the State Tourism Office will benefit from the Follow-Up section and discussion on Profile Sheets.)

Appointment Research
Your appointment list will be in your registration packet when you check-in at the Marketplace. You should have researched your requested tour operators before sending them to OTA. For background on tour operators, consult:

  • Heartland Travel Showcase Tour Operator info (available on-line)
  • Your client list and database
  • Past marketplace notes
  • National organization member directories and web pages (i.e. National Tour Association and
  • American Bus Association)
  • Tour operator web page

When you do receive your appointments, compare the list to those you requested. You may still be able to schedule appointments with those operators not on the initial list during the conference Mating Session and chat during networking functions. Before the marketplace, review your background notes. This will help you provide the most important information to the Tour Operator during appointments. For example, if you are meeting with a past client, they may only need an update – talk about What’s New. If you have never talked to the Tour Operator, you may need to provide an general overview of your hotel, restaurant, or attraction.

Tour Operator background information research might include: Client age groups: i.e. senior citizens, student, mixed adult; Interests such as theater, cruises, factory tours, train rides; Hotels and restaurants the operator likes to use (location, price range, amenities); Time of year, days of week, even time of day (morning, afternoon, evening) the tour operator might visit; Client mix – preformed groups, retail, custom itineraries; Are they currently visiting the area; If they are visiting the area, what’s included on their itinerary; When does the operator plan next year’s tours, etc.

With just a little research, you can assure your six minute appointment provides the best information for you and the tour operator.

First Timers
Never been to a marketplace? Relax. Your first time at a marketplace will not only be an opportunity to sell yourself, it will be a valuable learning experience. There is no one right way to approach attending a marketplace. The best advise, ask a colleague you trust for input. Perhaps the most important question should be “Is Heartland Travel Showcase right for me?” For a smaller attraction, hotel, or restaurant with a limited budget, Heartland may not be the most effective way to market your property. There may be other promotions that would be more cost effective, ie. cold calls, direct mail, co-op marketing, packaging, sample itinerary, etc.

Ok. You’ve decided to attend Heartland. Go to that trusted friend and ask every conceivable question you can think of. Read every bit of Heartland information. Contact the Ohio Travel Association office with questions. Chat with colleagues who have attended in the past, like your Visitors Bureau. Don’t worry so much about getting everything right the first time. Don’t be so concerned about booth decorations and gifts. Spend you time developing a great Profile Sheet. DO practice presentations on staff. Research the Tour Operators you have requested for appointments. (This list is available on-line from the OTA web site.) Share a booth with a Heartland veteran. Attend the First Timers session at Heartland. Again, relax. You’ll have a great time and may even be able to do a little business, maybe a lot of business.


There is only six minutes for Heartland Travel Showcase appointments. So be certain your presentation is concise and provides the basic information. There are typically two “props” that can be used during the presentation: 1) Profile Sheet and 2) Presentation Book (even PowerPoint presentation)

The Profile Sheet is a simple effective and very cost-effective marketing tool. All the major points of what you have to offer and how to make a reservation should be included on the Profile Sheet. A Schedule of Events and perhaps even a What’s New or upcoming Schedule of Events section should be a major feature of the discussion. In many cases the Profile Sheet will be the main talking point. Be certain your name and phone are clearly included on the Sheet.

A Presentation Book is a 3-ring type binder that contains transparent plastic sleeves with photos of an attraction, hotel or restaurant. A presentation “flip” book can be helpful, especially if your attraction, hotel, or restaurant are: 1) new to the group business; 2) new property; 3) major new addition or special traveling exhibition; 4) first-time meeting with Tour Operator. A presentation book helps organize your presentation and provides something visual. As Confucius once said “One picture is worth a thousand words.” Don’t forget to include basic information in the presentation: ie. passenger drop-off / pick-up; handicap accessible; food service, reservation/deposit and comp policy, hours open, etc.

In recent years, inexpensive laptop computers and easy-to-use software has given exhibitors an additional option for Heartland presentation – a video. Depending on your needs and property a laptop presentation may prove to be an effective way to make a presentation. Keep in mind, in most cases, there is an additional charge for electricity at the booth. If you plan to use batteries, bring lots of extras. The Marketplace lasts a day and a half.

If you can take notes during your appointments, add them to your database for future reference. These notes will also be helpful for your post marketplace follow-up. Those notes should include an assessment if the tour operator is a hot, medium, or cold prospect.

What literature should you distribute during appointments? Heartland Travel Showcase does allow exhibitors to distribute any type literature and gifts they like. An up-to-date Profile Sheet is typically the best piece of literature to distribute at the Marketplace. A limited number of sales kits might also be prepared for use on a very limited case-by-case basis. Most operators appreciate less paper rather than more. Before leaving the appointment, don’t forget to ask for the tour operator business card.

OTA provides a sample Profile Sheet with your Heartland material. A typical Profile Sheet is an 8 1/2 x 11 inch page. The paper has two sides, use two sides. Leave room on the left hand margin for a 3-hold punch. It should include the basic property info:

  • Description of property (including day and hours of operation)
  • Prices by age group
  • Complimentary ticket policy
  • Deposit, payment, and refund policy
  • Marketing aids (such as posters, generic marketing shells, downloadable photos, etc.)
  • Profile Sheet continued:
    • Location with map
    • Length of visit
    • Upcoming Schedule of Events for next two years (ie. traveling exhibits, programs, etc. of interest to groups)
    • Amenities – Step-on and greeting service, Dining Options, Drop off and motorcoach parking info,
    • Guided or Self-Guided Tours, Shopping, Area attractions and restaurants, Driving time from major highways or cities, etc.
    • Sample menu for restaurants
    • Sample Itinerary (especially helpful for CVB’s)
    • Hotel and room amenities
    • Organization memberships (ie. NTA, WRTC, ABA, OTA, SYTA, etc.)
    • Contact information (including phone and mailing address)

A Visitors Bureau or similar marketing organization will feature different information than say a hotel. A Visitors Bureau Profile Sheet might include: List of major tourist attractions; What’s New – new events, new programs or packages, new hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions; Calendar of Major Events, for the next two years; Visitors Bureau Planning Services; Sample Itinerary; etc.

Using Profile Sheets allows numerous options such as: Heavy-duty paper, Colored paper stock; High quality photographs; Color printing; Eye catching graphics and logos; Glossy paper. But keep the Profile Sheet simple. Run-on text is more difficult to read than bullet points. By using the major topic areas listed above helps the reader quickly find the information they need. As the Profile Sheet is developed on your personal computer, it can be quickly updated and customized for special uses, such as Heartland Travel Showcase.

To assure you have developed an effective marketing tool, fax the Profile Sheet to a trusted colleague or friend for review. And don’t forget to spell check for typos!

Many Heartland tour operators will have 40 or more appointments and chat with many other exhibitors during the course of the four days. They will be overwhelmed with information during and after Heartland. If a tour operator has asked to you follow-up after Heartland, follow-up as quickly as possible! However, in most cases, it might be a good idea to give the tour operator a month to “recover.” You have probably distributed your literature at the Marketplace, so it doesn’t need to be sent again.

What should you do after the Marketplace? First update your database with appointment notes. Be certain to check the name, address, and phone on their business card against the database. The hospitality industry is most dynamic. Don’t forget new telephone area codes, FAX numbers, emails, and web page addresses.

For those appointments rated as Hot, follow-up might take the form of a quick phone call, mailing, faxing, or emailing detailed information. A post card thanking the tour operator for their time at Heartland can be an effective “memory jogger.” Include hot and medium prospects in future mailings.

If you did not attend the marketplace but have received the leads from your local Visitors Bureau or the State of Ohio, you could mail your Profile Sheet or other basic information to the most promising prospects on the leads list. Should you mail to everyone on the list? Carefully review the tour operators listed to see if there is any realistic possibility they might be future business. Operators in that are a 2 or 3 day drive away may not be the best prospects. But an operator based in your home state or a nearby state, but be a possible prospect.

In addition to the Profile Sheet you may want to include a simple Information Request sheet the Operator can complete and fax back for more detailed information.

Heartland Travel Showcase can be a very effective selling tool if you do your homework before, during and after the show. Exhibitors spend a lot of money and time in the marketplace rather than in some other types of promotion. You should do everything reasonable to assure your marketplace experience results in sales – short-term, medium, and long-term. I hope these ideas help. Good luck!