Buyers, beware?

An anachronism open to abuse, or valuable business model, CMW asks whether it is time to change the Hosted buyers and fam trip model

An overwhelming majority of eventprofs polled at a recent Event Planners Talk breakfast meeting in London thought it was time for a change in the traditional industry hosted buyer and fam trip models.

The future model of fam trips and hosted buyer programmes was discussed during the discussion, held at The Caledonian Club in Belgravia.

On the back of the recent emergence of a UK industry blacklist of alleged ‘bogus’ buyers, Team Umbrella agency’s MD Martin Ellis moderated a lively discussion under the heading: ‘Hosted buyer programmes and fam trips – is it time for change?

A poll of those attending gave the unequivocal answer ‘Yes’ to the question, by 85%, with an even higher percentage – 96% – claiming to have experienced programmes where participants didn’t warrant a place.

A panel, including Virgin Atlantic’s partnership development manager Rebecca Duncan, defended the general principle of familiarisation trips, however, explaining her company would typically work with stakeholders – usually a trinity of airline, DMC and hotels – to screen applicants.

“I’m more likely to take a risk with a freelancer or agent from a smaller company. They might just have that one client for us… But I’d rather have empty spaces on a fam trip than the wrong people,” Duncan said, adding that she was wary of buyers who kept applying for the same experience.

Rachelle Valladeres of Dezika suggested the practice of hosted buyers making some kind of refundable payment – to cover their airfare – conditional on attending meetings as one potential improvement to the old model. This had worked, she said, at IC&TM shows in Asia.

However, one buyer pointed out that many large agencies simply refused to countenance paying to attend. Another problem identified was that invitations often gravitated to junior members of the agency, when a senior representative had been invited initially.

There were problems on the other side of the fam fence too, with some agents speaking about being made to take the time as holiday. This, Virgin Atlantic’s Duncan said, was a problem that the agencies needed to address, as it had led to disinterested participation on trips.

Johnny Martinez of event tech company Shocklogic noted that International Confex in the UK was an example of a “successful show that doesn’t have a hosted buyer programme. Yet, we get lots of business there”.

Millennials are seemingly less happy with the old model of hosted buyer programmes and some say the existing model was open to abuse. One comment at the Event Planners Talk called such programmes “no more than a habit, a tradition that has been around for many years”. Another contributor said hosted buyer programmes were often seen as “a numbers game” by organisers, who were quite prepared to bring in ‘rent-a-mob’ to give their figures a boost.

As to whether the industry should sanction blacklists, the mood of the audience seemed to be against, instead calling for better screening and being stricter on ‘no shows’. “Naming and shaming is not the way forward,” the panel agreed. Certainly one blacklist  seen by CMW is scathing in its criticisms and allegations of fraud and deception.

One Swiss delegate told the discussion that in her country a site inspection charge had been introduced to meet specific concerns from the pharma sector. Others underlined that hosted buyers could be an important revenue stream at events and some voices suggested creating a hybrid fam trip model incorporating VR.

Moderator Martin Ellis told CMW: “Hosted buyer programmes clearly do have their place; however the vetting process is key to the ROI for both buyer and supplier. The discussion showed that all parties see a need for change; there is also a view that abuse of hosting and fam trips takes many forms – not merely the ‘industry blagger’, but also the tendency of some larger companies to simply send a token attendee who neither offers nor receives any benefit in terms of business.” Indeed, at the recent Site GB Incentives Summit, Jenny Jenkins of UK industry association EVCOM said she had become “a little allergic” to fams, including due to the lack of senior figures in attendance.

One of the industry’s most successful exponents of the hosted buyer programme is IMEX Group, whose CEO Carina Bauer, comments: “Ray Bloom, IMEX’s founder, pioneered the hosted buyer concept in the ‘80s and we’ve been perfecting it ever since. Our long-held industry relationships coupled with our team’s extensive expertise allow us to attract high quality agency, corporate and association buyers who regularly plan or commission large-scale events around the world. Our most recent event, IMEX America, attracted 3,286 hosted buyers from 61 countries who attended appointments with exhibitors during three days of the show.

“IMEX believes in a flexible and balanced approach: time to do business – time for education and time for networking. Alongside appointments, we encourage hosted buyers to leave room in their schedule to attend education and events, as well as soak up the atmosphere on the show floor.”

Eda Kocabas from Istanbul CVB favours hosted buyer programmes but, adds: “It is always a challenge for the show organiser to add diversified and qualified buyers to provide new alternatives to the suppliers.”

Keep the fam trip and hosted buyers, but keep it real, seems to be the consensus – at least for now.


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Paul Colston

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