If you’ve received an invitation to a hosted buyer program, you’ve probably received an invitation to them all: IMEX, AIBTM, EIBTM, WEC, DMAI, PCMA’s Education Conference, not to mention those sponsored by meetings magazines. Why are there so many?
That was what Joan Eisenstodt was wondering when she asked members of the Industry Friends Facebook Group if there was a comprehensive list somewhere. What she got was 92 comments discussing and debating the pros and cons of the format, which flies meeting planners into a city and offers them free food, drink, entertainment, education and hotel rooms if they agree to set a minimum number of appointments for one-on-one meetings with representatives from hotels, tourism organizations and other vendors, who pay a hefty price to attend. (Disclaimer: PYM doesn’t produce hosted buyer events, but we are a media sponsor for IMEX America.)
Curious and wanting to dig deeper into why meeting professionals are so mixed on these events, I invited Industry Friends members to discuss the topic via Google Hangout. Out of respect for some participants, who wished to talk off the record, we didn’t broadcast it on air. Attending were several industry veterans, who ran the gamut of experience from corporate meeting planning and incentives to CVB and hotel sales. Here’s a recap (with the cons edging the pros 7 to 6).
- The format accelerates connections between planners and suppliers.
- It allows planners to research several destinations/venues in a short period of time.
- Being hosted makes it easy for planners to commit and attend.
- It’s a welcome alternative for salespeople accustomed to the traditional pipe-and-drape trade show where they stand all day, hoping someone will stop and talk to them.
- Having a guaranteed number of appointments makes it easier for salespeople to justify the cost of attending.
- It allows sales teams to search attendee lists and target who they want to talk with on-site.
- Company and industry-wide codes of ethics (think pharmaceutical and medical) prevent many high-level planners from accepting gifts of travel, accommodations, entertainment, and food and beverage, even if education is provided.
- Some planners just show up for the free ride and blow off their appointments, or don’t have any business reason for being there.
- Some organizers don’t do a good job of qualifying attendees on their invite list, or don’t make an effort because they’re trying to increase attendance numbers. Everyone on the hangout, whether a supplier, planner or member of the media, had received multiple invitations to hosted buyer events.
- Sales teams exhibiting at multiple events say they see the same planners over and over again. There’s no new blood or connection with local meeting planners because everyone is flown in.
- The shift in terminology from “meeting planner” to “hosted buyer” is dehumanizing, as is the appointment-setting format. It puts all the emphasis on business rather than relationships.
- Despite having rich data about planner preferences, organizers sometimes have to match planners with vendors they have no need to meet because an equal number of appointments has been promised to everyone.
- Some college-level students look at hosted buyer programs as free trips, and this is influencing their decision on what kind of planner they want to be. They want to be on the invite list.
Do you find value in hosted buyer programs? Or do you find them ethically indefensible? Will they become more popular? Or fade away? Please share your comments in the space below.