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What’s Happening in the World of Hospitality Trade Shows?

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October 17, 2022
Feature Article
Fran Worrall

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Almost everything, it seems, especially after two years of virtual conferences, webinars and other online events.


There’s a lot of value in meeting in person. “Connecting in face-to-face settings is a crucial element in the business environment, and it benefits all industry sectors,” said David DuBois, president and CEO of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events. In fact, according to the non-profit Center for Exhibition Industry Research, conferences and conventions not only help companies increase brand awareness and launch new products but also contribute to building relationships with vendors and fellow industry professionals.

“Everyone enjoys networking,” said Laura Lee Blake, president and chief executive officer of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA). “Trade shows give us the human interaction we crave, particularly now, after such a long period of pandemic-induced isolation.”

Bob Gilbert, president and chief executive officer of Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI), agrees. “Trade shows and conferences are vital conduits for sharing ideas, discussing challenges, and sharing best practices,” he said, adding that serendipitous conversations often take place on the exhibit floor. “People are happy to be back, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones.

A NEW SHOW IN VEGAS

The hospitality industry, perhaps more than any other market segment, holds many events each year, ranging from small meetings and user con-ferences to huge expos and trade shows. “Indeed, there is likely an event hosted on any given day in some part of the world,” said DuBois. So, when it was recently announced that a new trade show was entering the market, some people in the industry were surprised. 

In July, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), the country’s largest hotel association, announced a collaboration with information services and events company Questex to launch ‘The Hospitality Show,’ otherwise known as THE SHOW. It is touted as a comprehensive event that will bring together industry leaders and pro- curement specialists from across the hospitality spectrum to offer education, an exhibit hall, personalized business matchmaking, and other networking opportunities. The three-day show will be held June 27-29 in Las Vegas. 

At the same time, HITEC, the world’s largest hospitality technology exposition and conference, will hold its 2023 trade show in Toronto. Sponsored by the non-profit association Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals (HFTP), HITEC is a hugely popular event, drawing together thousands of industry professionals for educational sessions, exhibits and networking. This year, HITEC celebrated its 50th anniversary, making it the world’s longest-running hospitality technology event. 


AHLA isn’t new to the conference space. Over the years, the organization hasmanaged and produced a variety of events, including the International Hotel/ Motel Restaurant Show, ForWard: Women Advancing Hospitality, and the Safety Summit. “It’s not as if this is a novel endeavor for us,” said Kevin Carey, executive vice president and chief operating officer at AHLA. “We heard there was a need to bring together key parties across the industry with an emphasis on technology and operations, which we see as inextricably linked, and that’s what we’re doing.” 

In fact, he said, the idea of THE SHOW began with conversations between AHLA and the vendor community. “We have deep relationships with suppliers and service providers across many industry verticals, and we’ve spent a great deal of time over the last couple of years talking with them about what they want to see. There are a lot of conferences and events out there, but we believe we can play a key role in meeting some of the emerging needs and interests of the industry.”

MAKING TOUGH CHOICES

Many insiders point to the coinciding dates as being inhospitable in an industry based on friendliness. Others worry that the two shows will compete for attendees and strain the financial and staffing resources of exhibitors. “This isn’t good for the industry in so many ways,” said Frank Wolfe, chief executive officer of HFTP. “Vendors, especially, will be making some tough choices.”

Yet, organizers of the new AHLA event insist there were no other options. “We had a fairly short time frame and a large gathering,” Carey said. “It just worked out this way.”

Ironically, HFTP and AHLA have had significant alliances in the past. “We used to donate 35 percent of what we made at HITEC to the AHLA Foundation to go toward scholarships,” Wolfe said, noting that the arrangement ended around 1990. More recently, the organizations worked together to oversee content and revisions of the Uniform System of Accounts for the Lodging Industry (USALI), a standard for hospitality financial and operational reporting.

“In some ways, associations are ‘frenemies’ in that we all have the same goals at a high level,” Wolfe said. “Yet, at the end of the day, our focus is on our industry and on doing our best to help our members.”

WHAT’S IN THE FUTURE?

After the dust settles, the biggest question is likely to be this: Can the industry support another major conference? Many people are unsure. “It’s hard to say if there’s room for another big show,” said Gilbert. “A critical factor for any event is educational content. It’s the reason many people attend conferences and trade shows; they don’t go just to shop. The educational content of this new event hasn’t been articulated and the exact demographic profile of the attendee is yet to be seen.”

Yet, Carey is bullish not only on the outlook for AHLA’s new show, but on the outlook for industry events in general. “I believe there will be strong engagement in the trade show proposition,” he said. At the same time, he believes companies will carefully evaluate each show’s return on investment. “People will want to make sure they’re getting the right efficiencies in
terms of who they’re meeting with.”

Wolfe says the strong will survive. “If you rest on your laurels and do the same things over and over again you’ll soon be extinct.” Since the AHLA announcement, he said, a number of industry professionals have offered ideas about how to improve HITEC. “We’re taking those suggestions seriously and will do our best to implement them. Our primary focus is always on doing what’s best for the industry.”


Ultimately, Gilbert said, the key to any trade show’s success is staying current. “I applaud HFTP
because they have continued to refresh HITEC over the years with innovative aspects of technology
evolution, such as The Hotel Guestroom of the Future and Guestroom 20X.”

Whatever happens, most vendors and operators are hoping that after 2023, HITEC and THE SHOW
will take place on different dates. “Unfortunately, some drama has arisen because of all this,” AAHOA's
Blake concluded. “Hopefully, that will be resolved in future years, and we can all move forward.”
 

The announcement in July that AHLA is launching a hospitality tradeshow in 2023 called The Hospitality Show, or THE SHOW, caused ripples throughout the industry, primarily because the dates of the event, June 27-29, overlap with the dates of HITEC, which will take place in Toronto June 26-29.

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THE STATE OF INDUSTRY TRADE SHOWS

HU ASKED SEVERAL VENDORS FOR THEIR VIEWPOINTS ON THE NEW SHOW AND WHETHER OR NOT THEY PLAN TO ATTEND. WE ALSO ASKED WHAT THEY THOUGHT ABOUT THE STATE OF INDUSTRY TRADE SHOWS IN GENERAL. HERE’S WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY.

What are your thoughts on the new AHLA show? Do you plan to participate?

Terrie O’Hanlon,
Chief Marketing Officer, Agilysys
 
Taking a perspective at a level higher than the competing trade shows per se, having additional research, voices, thought leaders and advocates for the hospitality industry is quite positive. Everyone learns when different viewpoints are shared and debated. When it comes to the shows themselves, I agree with HFTP CEO Frank Wolfe’s official comment in that organ
ization’s press release: “Competition always makes everyone in the comp set raise the bar a bit, and HITEC has had plenty of competition over the years.” 
 
It is a bit odd that the new AHLA show is scheduled for the same dates as HITEC. It would be preferable for this show to augment and expand knowledge and hospitality community interaction, not overlap an existing event. Hopefully, this type of conflict will be worked out over the longer term to everyone’s benefit.

We will certainly explore what the new AHLA show offers to participants and sponsors. That said, logistically it will be difficult for us to participate at the same level in both shows over the same dates given the strain it would place on trade show assets and Agilysys personnel. Trade shows have a long planning horizon, and we are already committed to exhibiting at HITEC in June 2023. We will need examine what, if anything, is reasonably possible with respect to participating in AHLA’s The Hospitality Show.

Cam Troutman,
Vice President, Aptech

It’s way too early to think too much about the new show with all the unknowns. If it can create content and generate attendance for an underserved segment of the industry, then it could be beneficial. We haven’t decided on participation yet



Riise Walker,
Marketing Director, ASSA ABLOY Global Solutions

We are disappointed that the AHLA chose to schedule the new event on the same dates as HITEC since this will most likely dilute attendance at both shows and will certainly stretch both staff and financial resources for industry vendors like us. We believe that time will tell whether it is a good or bad thing for the industry.

We are undecided whether we will participate in The Hospitality Show as an exhibitor. We are already committed to a space at HITEC, having been a long-time exhibitor at that event. Our policy is typically to walk a new show the first year to see who attends and how it performs, but we will evaluate
as things progress.
 

Mark Holzberg,
President & Chief Executive Officer, Cloud5 Communications
Obviously, the big problem here is timing, and everybody in the industry is talking about it.A new show, particularly if it’s going to be different, may not be a bad thing. But it has to be more than just a show and more than just a bunch of exhibitors. We’re increasingly seeing the intersection of operations, marketing and IT in hospitality and having a show with a broader participation can be beneficial. Bringing in the C-suite at the ground level outside of technology is a positive thing. Everybody can talk the same language and understand the challenges and solutions. I do think that having the first show right over HITEC is a mistake, as a lot of people are already committed to HITEC. It's unfortunate that some people are going to have to make a choice of which show to attend.

Corey Rhodes,
Chief Executive Officer, Enseo

It’s certainly interesting that the shows are on the same dates, and it poses a challenge to exhibitors. Competition can be a catalyst for positive change, so I think we’ll see over the next year what comes from this, including what new opportunities arise. I can see that it’s already made a difference though, creating discussion around the most advantageous opportunities for business development.
 
Enseo has attended HITEC for about 20 years and is also heavily involved with AHLA. The biggest question for us, which I assume is shared by most hospitality tech vendors, is this: Which show will our customers attend? We have seen success at HITEC but also know that AHLA draws a crowd. With shows on the same dates, we expect engaging events and activities as well as meaningful interaction that encourages opportunities with new contacts.

Alex Alt,
General Manager and Senior Vice President, Oracle Hospitality

We're excited about THE SHOW because it offers a new forum for leaders to gather and address the evolving needs of our industry. After two years of massive change, THE SHOW will be a welcome opportunity to bring together a variety of stakeholders — CIOs, CEOs, CROs and beyond — to discuss challenges and innovations across all facets of hospitality and how we can all adapt and thrive. There is value in having various shows that can bring together diverse audiences to discuss various aspects of hospitality's continued evolution.




Daniel Montellano,
Senior Vice President, Enterprise Business Development at Shift4

Everything depends on the caliber of attendees. You want companies that are there to make change.
You want decision makers. Will these two meetings have the same audience? We can’t have two booths simultaneously. So, which will people attend? My problem is that I’ll have a lot of meetings at HITEC.
And the best person to qualify for the other event would be me. I can’t be in two places at one time, and I can’t just give up HITEC. So, this is a catch-22. I know what I’m getting with HITEC, and we’re already invested at being at HITEC. If the new show was being held on a different week, I’d be there.
 

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What are your thoughts about the industry’s hospitality shows in general? Are there too many? Or is there room for more?

Terrie O’Hanlon,
Chief Marketing Officer, Agilysys

Hospitality is a personal industry that attracts people interested in community and learning from each other. Trade shows provide a form of broad-based personal interaction that is hard to replace and that moves the industry forward, both intellectually and in spirit. I think the market will show whether or not there is room for additional shows. If the content is compelling, the event is professional and well-organized, and both attendees and exhibitors gain value, then there is room. I do hope that the AHLA and HFTP shows each find a distinct season and purpose, rather than being duplicative in timing and purpose. Smart people who love the hospitality industry make up both organizations and have the opportunity to advance knowledge and practices that benefit everyone who works in this space.


Cam Troutman,
Vice President, Aptech

Hospitality show utopia would be for us to come together as an industry and have ‘premiere’ shows that serve the major disciplines within the hospitality industry. The industry is too broad to have a single ‘mega’ show but having too many shows within the same discipline will divide the attendees as well as the vendors, or at least their budgets. Aptech wants to be where its clients and prospects will be, and as a tech vendor I think it would be great to have industry consensus on a single hotel tech conference. 


Riise Walker,
Marketing Director, ASSA ABLOY Global Solutions

There are many industry trade shows in various regions around the world and they all serve a different purpose for specific markets. It’s nice to have options based on current market needs. So, there is always room for more, as long as the ROI is there for exhibitors, sponsors and attendees. However, you can’t physically be at two events at once.



Mark Holzberg,
President & Chief Executive Officer, Cloud5 Communications

I don’t think there’s room for a lot more. If there are a couple of major shows during the year that have a broad attendance rate, that’s probably fine. And then it’s good to have some focused shows. But people don’t have the bandwidth to attend a lot of shows and then go back and provide the solutions customers are asking for.


Daniel Montellano,
Senior Vice President, Enterprise Business Development at Shift4
Between user conferences, brand conferences and industry conferences, you could spend your entire career at conferences. At some point, there are too many and you just can’t attend all of them. You have to look at the ones where you’ll get the most bang for your buck. And they aren’t cheap. I don’t even go to all the conferences in Vegas, and I’m in Vegas!



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