International Attendance Promotion
by Michael Hough
International attendees are a very desireable target market
for your show. They are usually highly qualified simply by the
fact that they have invested significant time and money to attend
your show. Furthermore, international attendees help raise your
show to the next level of industry prominence.
Many U.S. trade shows can be very successful drawing international
The show may be more advanced than comparable overseas events.
The level of learning experiences at the show, both conference
and exhibit, may not be available in the attendees’
The attendees may be members of an international association
that is supporting the show.
The U.S. is an attractive place to visit.
Unfortunately, it has become harder to attract international
visitors to U.S. shows because of post 9/11 issues. This article
will first discuss generic ways to increase international attendance
and then address the post 9/11 issues.
Promoting international attendance
How do you draw international visitors to your Widget Expo?
You can go all out and send your people to foreign countries to
generate interest in your show. You can buy ads in key overseas
publications. You can translate promotion material into several
languages and provide simultaneous translation for conference
sessions. And you can apply to the Department of Commerce to be
selected for its International Buyer Program.
If you do not have the budget to do all this, here are six less
Select a certain number of countries to target. Criteria
would include: potential number of prospects for your show;
infrastructure in place to reach these prospects (i.e., associations
and magazines); and past history of sending attendees to U.S.
shows. And now add the criteria that there should be less
hassle getting visas for their citizens.
Determine which associations and publications in each targeted
country serve your market. For example, the U.K. has the Royal
Institute of Widgeteers and The Widget Engineering Journal.
Contact those associations and publications to help you promote
the show. Build a relationship and try to convince them to
bring their members/subscribers to your show.. Be prepared
to go a step further and offer them an incentive, such as
a 33% commission on registration fees from their members or
Suggest that the associations and magazines sponsor tours
to the show for their members or subscibers. Again, offer
them a 33% commission on registration fees.
Contact tour group operators to bring groups to the show.
Offer them a commission on registration fees; they will also
take a commission on the travel arrangements.
Be sure to make your show itself attractive to international
attendees. Here are some thoughts:
Add some sessions with an international flavor –
for example, "Global Implications of Widget Shortages."
Provide special conference discounts to international
attendees who register before an early deadline.
Translate selected sections of your Web site and offer
visitors to the site a choice of languages. Use this information
to decide if you need to provide interpreters at the show,
and in which languages.
Offer a special "hot line" for international
inquiries, including a phone number and an e-mail address.
Assign a knowledgeable staff person to respond promptly
to all such inquiries.
At the show site offer special amenities such as an
international visitors lounge and interpreters.
Post 9/11 issues
For many shows international attendance has fallen by 20% or
more, as foreign nationals find it increasingly difficult or inconvenient
to travel to the U.S. The biggest hurdle is stricter legislation
and consular protocols, in the wake of terrorist attacks, that
make obtaining visas more difficult than ever.
Recently there was a session at the IAEM Annual Meeting on the
visa problem. Based on the discussions at this session, here are
some recommendations on how to make it as easy as possible for
your international visitors to obtain visas:
Start your international promotion much earlier - say 9 months
out. Post on your web site exactly how your prospects should
go about applying for a visa (IAEM is working up standard
wording for this).
If you have a history with the individual, offer to send
a letter of invitation (as needed). Send this letter directly
to the individual (not the consular officer) which the individual
will attach to his visa application. The letter should:
Be on your show's actual letterhead (and not simply
an email). If you send this electronically, make the letter
Include a short statement establishing the importance
of your show to U.S. exports (such as Widget Expo is the
largest widget manufacturing show held in North America).
Be as specific as possible about the individual's bona
fides, such as the number of years he has attended your
show, whether he is a speaker, committee member, etc.
Also, if possible, mention why his attendance will help
U.S. exports (such as he is chief of widget purchasing
for his firm).
Emphasize your show is a date certain event and thus
it is important to expedite the issuance of the visa.
- Not make any recommendations nor guarantees about the
- If you do not have a history with the individual, be careful
about vouching for him. Suggest you have him prove to you his
sincere/legitimate interest in your show. If this convinces
you, then send the letter of invitation. But do not go beyond
what you know to be true about the individual.
Michael Hough is an industry consultant and author of The
Profitable Trade Show (www.profitabletradeshow.com). He also co
produces the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum (www.eceforum.com).
Copyright 2003 MRH Associates, Inc. All rights