At the end of the MeetDifferent opening general session, Bruce MacMillan gave a rah-rah “Buy MPI” speech and sent attendees out on a high note. In the corridor, a drum squad beat a lively path to the trade show floor, where lunch was served.
But despite the excitement, the good intentions and the great build-up, the feeling on the trade show floor was tense. Walking through, there seemed to be far more exhibitors than planners. And with a four-hour window, when the floor seemed empty, it seemed really empty.
I don’t usually walk through the trade shows, but I was looking for someone from Columbus, Ohio (whose booth I never found), and a sweet person from SignUp4 that I sat next to at the general session (who wasn’t at his booth when I went by). I did run into some old friends and talked with them. I also conducted an interview with a representative from Galveston Island, because I wanted to get the word out that her destination is up and running and wasn’t knocked out by Hurricane Ike last fall. And I got some quotes from planners about what they thought of the general session.
Since a lot of sales reps seemed to have downtime, I was going to do some “At Your Service” interviews — short profiles about how people got into the hospitality industry and why they love what they do. At the first booth I went to, however, the rep I spoke with thought it would be more appropriate to talk with their VP of Sales & Marketing in the home office. I gave her my card and started walking off, when I was grabbed roughly and accosted by her sales partner. I didn’t understand why he was so rude or upset, until I realized that he thought I was a vendor that hadn’t registered to exhibit. “I paid a lot of money to be here,” he said.
When I explained that I was media and in the process of conducting press interviews, he calmed down, but it was clear that he had witnessed several people “cruising” planners rather than paying to exhibit like the other vendors. “We keep telling MPI to do something about it, but it falls on deaf ears,” he said.
He was frustrated because of the amount of money spent and the diminished return, but also because the traditional trade show model is broken. Another exhibitor pointed out that she gets more business done during the educational sessions and other events; that the trade shows just aren’t worth it. Planners seem to be uncomfortable with the set up, and the atmosphere doesn’t promote casual, intimate conversation, which is how most people prefer to make contacts, build relationships and do business.
So it was a relief to hear from a MPI rep that this will be the last year a trade show will be a component of MeetDifferent. MPI does such a great job with introducing innovative ideas that the trade show seemed almost anachronistic in the larger context of the event. It will be interesting to see what the trade show will be replaced with at next year’s MeetDifferent in Cancun.