The first edition of The Profitable Trade Show by Michael Hough ...
is now sold out. But we are working on the next edition which we hope to publish in late 2004. Meanwhile, this web site provides practical, "how-to" information for all who produce face to face events such as exhibitions, trade shows and conferences.

Profit Tips
White Papers
Large Show Roundtable

Also Available

White Papers Index

W1 - All is Not Well

W2 - Sample of a Memo to Content Partners

W3 - Ten Commandments for Speakers

W4 - 100 Tips in 75 Minutes

W5 - All About E-Newsletters

W6 - The Other Two Legs

W7 - Five Mistakes Associations Make

W8 - 15 Attendance Promotion Tips

W9 - Ten Questions to Ask When Considering a Launch

W10 - 15 Cost-Saving Tips

W11 - 15 E-Marketing Tips

W12 - Strategic Review of a Show

W13 - Launching a New Event

W14 - Avoiding Attrition Penalties

W15 - The Case Against Audits

W16 - Co-location for Fun and Profit

W17 - Improving the Association Show

W18 - International Attendance Promotion

W19 - Helping International Visitors Obtain Visas

W20 - Fixing the Machine

Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum

Large Show Roundtable


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 attendees because:

  • 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’ home countries.

  • 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 costly suggestions:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 subscribers.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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:

  1. 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).

  2. 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 an attachment.

    • 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 individual
  3. 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 ( He also co produces the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum (

Copyright 2003 MRH Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.