Recently, The New York Times Travel Show announced it was pulling the plug after 17 years of operation. It’s a big loss for the travel industry but it made me think about the future of travel events. Much of my career’s success can be attributed to networking and events such as that one.
I had mixed emotions when I heard the news. The show had grown formulaic but it was the week that I planned much of my networking and events for the year. It was the first major event of the year and people came from around the country.
It made me think a lot about the new normal for events.
A few years back, I joined TravelCon, a conference started by Nomadic Matt. Matt and I have been to our fair share of events – our friendship was even sparked by meeting at an event ten years ago. I’ve put on countless parties for clients, monthly events as Travel Massive NYC chapter leader for years, and more recently TravelCon, which is coming up on our third event, hosted in Memphis next April. We built an event based on our own experiences as event planners and attendees. We know what’s memorable and the way you feel when you walk away from a great event….likely an after-party is involved if it’s really good.
Bigger isn’t always necessarily better.
Shows on that scale have to have the foot traffic and attendance to meet the expectations. While that can be a model to follow, we feel pretty strongly that it’s not always “the bigger the better.” A lot has to be based on the quality of attendees and zeroing in on your target audience.
An audience that wants to learn. They constantly try to improve their skills. They show up because it’s an investment in themselves not a chance to score free drinks or travel swag. We both believe passionately that if you stop learning, networking, and improving then it’s a hobby and not a business.
In a sea of people, it’s hard to find the time to track down the people you want to meet or re-connect with. The value of attending events is the impromptu meetings conducted in the hallways. A lot of that can be improved through technology and providing easy ways to connect on-site so more of those connections can go beyond spontaneity and happenstance. Tech can also serve as a means to cut down on waste and keep the transfer of germs to a minimum, which is now something we all have to consider.
But you also don’t want to be lost in a sea of people. You want to know that you’ll be able to run into people again in the hallways like at parties. It’s why we’ve pushed to limit TravelCon to around 1,000 people. It’s big but not too big.
The Pandemic Pivot
The pandemic made us all pivot and Zoom far more than we ever wanted to. It also forced us all to re-evaluate “the event” and ROI as both brands and attendees.
Now, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, however, it’s time to consider the approach and business model of events. At such a grand scale and expense, all the elements have to work in lock-step or the tripod will collapse: attendance quality, sponsors / underwriters, and execution.
By the very nature of our business, it’s all about the human connection. It’s why we travel and go to the ends of the earth – to experience and discover. Events and that human connection are not going anywhere. It just might look different and investments will be more thoughtful.
Intentional. Thoughtful. Efficient.
If there’s anything the pandemic taught us, it’s the value of time and what we do with it. We’ve all taken a steep hit and evaluating our resources, budget and time will be paramount.
We predict there will be a hybrid of in-person and virtual format well into the future. Long before the pandemic shut us all down, TravelCon had a virtual pass knowing that many in our business are typically traveling and the education elements could be exported. We still plan to continue that. The only thing you cannot share virtually is that feeling you get when you have a great conversation over drinks or you develop relationships whereby cold emails don’t exist anymore. You’re working with people you like. And that’s what we are all striving for.
Here are our few key ingredients to a successful event and takeaways:
- Plan an event that you would want to attend; think about it from all perspectives before laying out the cash.
- Seek new, diverse voices and great storytellers; a lot of events keep recycling the same speakers; not to take away from a lot of these talented folks, however, we have learned that raising up new and varied perspectives makes us all better.
- Don’t ask too much of your attendees. The right balance of brands and authenticity / value to the audience. Make the content so good they cannot help but share it.
- Hybrid of virtual and in-person will be a winning mix, which helps expand your audience and provide multiple ways to participate.
- Technology will continuously improve events, especially when looking for less physical touch or wasteful printed materials. We went “digital gift bag” after our first event and have a dedicated app that provides so much value to attendees, including finding the right people to meet.
- Create the opportunity for people to have continued education and meet new, interesting people. Also free booze. Great ice breaker, and easy.
In many cases, it’s the simple things that win. Bring the right people in the room, don’t overcomplicate it with some free drinks and good vibes.
With that, we hope to wow you at TravelCon Memphis April 29-May 1, 2022 and bring everyone back together again!