Sam Woodward, Director of Sales at The Hampshire Court Hotel, shares his experience of The Meetings Show with the QHotels team, who exhibited at the event with the HBAA. 

This was my first visit to the Meetings Show, as either a visitor or an exhibitor. As well as selling the QHotels group to all those coming in and out of Olympia over the three days, I was also asked to write a blog on my experience.

I have to admit that my initial reaction before the show was to check the exhibitor list to see what competition we would be up against (and what ex colleagues would be around for a beer in the evening). In reality I was blown away by the scope of the event, and soon realised that the QHotels team and I needed to bring our A-game to this.

It was great to see a full diary of hosted buyers looking to spend some time with us on our stand, leaving me with a full diary - the Holy Grail for a sales person. The process to make this happen was seamless too. You see someone attending that you want to see, you ask them to see you, they accept - perfect. May I add, we are in a time when getting in front of a decision maker seems very tough. I now understand why - they're all at trade shows!

The Meetings Show

My first impression was that the space didn't seem that busy despite there being a lot of people in attendance, however, this didn't last long -  I was to later learn that what busy looked like.


So what did I notice? Well, firstly there seemed to be a similar 'look' across the more extensive stands. A number were set up to look like an outside space with astro turf in abundance, to look like a funky café (with imitation book cases a must) or a high end cocktail bar with poseur tables a plenty. Ireland's stand was a sight to behold; you could almost taste the Guinness as you sat down to discuss your next meeting or event in Dublin or Galway.

The overall focus and message seemed to be very much location-led with branding on stands shouting messages such as 'In the heart of the city', 'Where the city meets the country' or a simple 'Visit Ireland/Berlin'. This was further evidenced when we met with buyers, the agencies told us that if you're in the wrong location then your venue is unlikely to be considered, no matter how much value you offer. However, for larger events, facilities win over location, which supports what we've seen with the popularity of our Hampshire Arena.

Incentives were something that I kept a look out for as it's something that we have worked particularly hard to continuously develop at QHotels (we took our newest incentives along with us).  On the whole there didn't seem to be a lot of offers or incentives being discussed, or certainly, if there was, this wasn't in your face.  Of course, the big loyalty schemes were still being talked about, but was there a brand leading the way on a C&E incentive? Absolutely not. It seems as if the quest for something brand new to hit the industry continues.

One surprise was the lack of innovative tech on display. Personally, when it comes to technology I believe that the hotel industry is playing catch up and it showed that we're a long way off seeing visitors at Olympia all walking around with headsets on, viewing every twist and turn of our hotels. There was some evidence of groups investing in, and shouting about, their technology offerings but this was largely around additional items like docking stations and plug and play AV.

I found out that Wi-Fi is still something that event bookers need and expect to be high-quality when booking a venue. Almost all of our appointments mentioned how clients need to run full events apps throughout the day, telling us that: "Your Wi-Fi capabilities will make or break our event", so I was glad to be able to talk about our Wi-Fi investment when this came up!

F&B has always been, and will always be, crucial to the meetings industry. Olympia got it right with three colourful and appetising salads along with a protein option. Again, no-one seemed to lead with their F&B offering, but on the QHotels stand we were certainly shouting loud and clear about our new street food offering. Customers told us it was bang on trend which was fantastic, but we did get the message that the days of stuffy hotel restaurant evening dining options are over. It seems we need to get the right mix between keeping the informal options there for our leisure guests, but making the concept a lot more laid back and current for our events guests.

Overall the day for us at the QHotels stand was very successful. The qualified appointments system worked perfectly, with our day packed back-to-back. At one point we even had a queue of customers waiting to see us.

Would I go again? Well, I'm returning to the office armed with enquiries and site visits, which I can honestly say is a first from a major trade show - if they convert as I expect them to do, then I would definitely say yes. I think we used the opportunities the show gave us, we paired with the HBAA, we requested to see the right people and we went with open and transparent messages.

My top tips for making the most of The Meetings Show

  • Use the appointment system to meet the right people - it really works.
  • Know ALL of your venues and what you can offer. It's expected that you will have the answers to hand.
  • Be aware of upcoming investment and future pricing/strategies.
  • Make the most of your time at the show - your potential buyers are in front of you.

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