by William Ng | June 27, 2011
The inaugural AIBTM lived up to its billing as the first large-scale hosted-buyer trade show in the United States to serve the international meetings market, with both exhibitors and attendees hailing it a success.

Nearly 800 exhibitors and more than 1,500 buyers attended the marketplace last week in Baltimore. The trade show was 40 percent larger than originally conceived by organizer Reed Travel Exhibitions some three years ago. “AIBTM was a long time coming,” said Steve Knight, Reed’s AIBTM project manager. “We are overwhelmed by the success of the last few days.”

Exhibitors, meeting buyers, and other attendees praised the three-day show’s scheduling and format. The first day, June 21, was solely dedicated to the education program (which Reed dubbed AIBTM Education Day), allowing meeting planners in attendance to focus their time on learning, among other lessons, strategic meeting management skills, new technologies, and the latest industry advocacy developments from lobbyist group U.S. Travel Association. When the trade show floor opened up on the second and third days, a small number of additional educational sessions and seminars were held.

“The separate day of education is a good idea,” said Knight. “We might continue this with our other shows.”

AIBTM’s hosted buyer format required corporate and association meeting and incentive buyers, all of which are vetted by Reed, to pre-arrange appointments with the suppliers they wanted to see in Baltimore. Under this format, exhibiting suppliers were able to go into the show knowing that they had meetings with serious leads.

The highly anticipated hosted buyer system, a staple among trade shows outside the country, proved a hit. Mike Fegley, InterContinental Hotels Group’s vice president of global sales for the Americas, said the company held 450 appointments with 60 “very targeted buyers,” adding that the event was “phenomenal.” Margaret Moynihan, a Deloitte & Touche director and a Certified Meeting Planner, noted, “It was a very international show. We had a chance to see [destination management companies] and operators, and the appointments were very efficient.”

Likewise, Soraya Juarez, associate director of sales for the Hyatt Regency Cancun, who exhibited along with other hotels and resorts under the Mexico stand, said, “The show was very well organized, with a variety of corporate and association planners from different places. I like the format.”

For Michelle Jones, Washington, DC-area meeting and convention sales manager for the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, it was her first hosted buyer experience. “I had 20 appointments—and a couple of walk-ins,” she said of her first day on the show floor. “We’re targeting some corporate and government business but mostly association. There were serious buyers.”

With Baltimore’s close proximity to Washington, DC, association buyers outnumbered corporate buyers (24% versus 14%), while the rest were from incentive houses and third-party planning companies. Reed reported that 11,200 prescheduled buyer-supplier meetings took place, with 740 registered hosted buyers. There were 806 registered buyers—those who weren’t in the hosted buyer program but were qualified and on the show floor looking to do business with suppliers. Eighty-nine percent of the hosted buyers were from North America.

Filling out the Baltimore Convention Center’s Hall A were 183 booths. Domestic convention and visitors bureaus, including those for Baltimore, Orlando, Las Vegas, Boston, and New York City, were positioned in one area of the show floor. A Texas pavilion was led by the San Antonio and Dallas CVBs. International destination exhibitors clustered around pavilions by geographic region, and hotels and resorts formed another part of the show floor. Their neighbors were DMCs and tour companies, incentive suppliers, meeting software makers, and other suppliers.

Beijing, Taiwan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Business Events Australia were notable Asia-Pacific exhibitors, while highly visible players from Europe were London & Partners (formerly Visit London), Visit Scotland, the Vienna Convention Bureau, Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau, and German Convention Bureau. There was a large Scandinavian contingent, and South Africa had a large stand, as did Abu Dhabi and Dubai. From the Caribbean, Aruba, Jamaica, and St. Lucia showcased themselves as meeting and incentive destinations.

While there was a smattering of exhibitors that mentioned some appointment no-shows and light attendee traffic at certain times, exhibitors gave a unanimous conclusion that they were glad to be in Baltimore. The common sentiments were that they wanted to be a visible presence to stay top of mind with planners and that there was a curiosity factor involved with the first edition of the show. Some wanted to transplant their success from exhibiting at Reed’s big annual meetings trade fair in Barcelona, EIBTM.

“We’ve had lots of experience with EIBTM, so with the first U.S. show, it’ll be interesting see the results,” said Kerry Watson, associations manager for Visit Scotland, which is looking to gain a bigger share of the U.S. association market. “AIBTM is close to Washington, DC, so we hope to get association business, but there was a good mix of buyers.” Her business partner at the Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre, Ben G. Goedegebuure, the venue’s director of sales, noted, "We want to touch base with U.S. clients and cement relationships, show we made the effort to come here.”

The Professional Convention Management Association, which co-located its 2011 Education Conference with AIBTM at the convention center, provided association-seeking suppliers with additional exposure to potential clients. PCMA attendees were invited to AIBTM as registered buyers. Goedegebuure is the first-ever non-American PCMA board member.

Meanwhile, others reiterated the raves about AIBTM’s international turnout and its hosted buyer program.

“The hosted buyers who showed up were serious, they were here for a purpose,” said Tampa Bay & Co.’s senior account executive for the DC area, Suz Cavanaugh. “We got a good mix of associations and even potential buyers that didn’t preschedule appointments.”

On the first day of show floor activity, the Orlando/Orange County CVB had a lead for a citywide group interested in holding a meeting during the destination’s shoulder season. “They want to meet at a time when we need it. We’re very impressed with show,” said the CVB’s president and CEO, Gary Sain. “We are here to test the waters, but if it keeps going like this, we would consider even more exposure at this show next year.”

The Anaheim/Orange County VCB made contact with a third-party planning company from Mexico with 20 clients looking to have meetings in the United States. “The client-driven apppointments are new to us,” said CarolSue McNaul, convention sales director, of the hosted buyer program, “but we’re thrilled.”

Steve Clanton, vice president of sales and services for the San Antonio CVB, also liked the show’s format but suggested slotting some designated time for the non-hosted buyers who might have felt reluctant to intrude on suppliers that were occupied with hosted-buyer appointments. But he added, “It was a good event.”

At the closing press conference, an appreciative Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, said of AIBTM, “To be selected as the destination for the first U.S. hosted-buyer show is a great thing for Baltimore. It is a game-changing moment, to have planners experiencing Baltimore—it’s huge for us.”

Reed is under contract to hold two more AIBTM shows in Baltimore, through 2013, and it already intends to increase the size of next year’s show, set for June 19-21, 2012, into a second hall at the convention center. The show organizer says many hotel companies already have rebooked as exhibitors, including InterContinental, Marriott, Fairmont, as well as CVBs such as the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau and NYC & Co.

“AIBTM offers huge potential for the U.S. market,” noted Craig Moyes, Reed’s group exhibition director.