You sit down to dinner with your family.
Within moments of your first bite, the phone rings. All eyes land on you. Will you answer it or screen the call?
You decide to answer the phone and are greeted by a cheerful voice shouting, “Congratulations, you’ve just won a free all-expenses paid trip for three days! All you have to do to claim your free trip is come to the following address on Saturday, spend 90-minutes listening to our speaker and take our tour. You don’t have to purchase anything. You don’t even have to like our speaker. Can we count on you to attend?”
Do you take the free trip and attend the seminar? Do you hang up the phone? Or do you ask more questions?
If you are like most American citizens, you’ve received a similar phone call. Or a direct mail piece with winning prize information.
And if you’re a meeting professional, you’ve likely received a similar phone call or emailat your work inviting you to attend a hosted buyer program complete with free airfare, four- or five-star lodging, meals, registration and education.
Hosted Buyer Programs On The Rise
Just like these time share congratulatory phone calls, hosted buyer programs are on the rise within the meetings industry.
- On November 30-December 2, 2010, EIBTM is offering 2,000 qualified hosted buyers free airfare to Barcelona, Spain, lodging, registration and post-event tours in exchange for attending six exhibitor appointments, a destination presentation and networking events.
- AIBTM – The Americas Meetings & Events Exhibition – has announced that it will be welcoming 2,000 Hosted Buyers to Baltimore June 21 – 23, 2011.
- IMEX America will hold a hosted buyer program in Las Vegas, October 11-13, 2011 for 2,000 qualified buyers. Participants must attend a minimum of four individual appointments per day and pre-scheduled group appointments in exchange for airfare, lodging, registration, ground transportation and education.
- MPI offered a hosted buyer program to 100+ attendees at its MeetDifferent 2010 conference in Cancun, Mexico. Qualified hosted buyers committed to meeting with 15 different suppliers in exchange for complimentary airfare, hotel and registration.
- Reed Travel Exhibitions oversees several hosted buyer events including EIBTM (Barcelona, Spain); GIBTM (Abu Dhabi, UAE), CIBTM (Beijing, China) and AIME (Melbourne, Australia).
Hosted Buyer Attendees And Challenges
Most hosted buyer programs are for qualified senior-level meeting professionals, and business and incentive travel buyers that have decision-making authority and buying authorization. Yet, most meeting planners are not decision makers. They are influencers. Influencers are defined as buyers who can’t say yes but can say no.
The challenge with many hosted buyer programs is that typically senior-level meeting professionals know most of the players in the industry. They have built long-term relationships with their preferred suppliers and vendors of choice. Unless they are going to a new part of the world that they have not personally visited, they usually don’t need to take another trip to meet with suppliers and vendors.
And what senior-level professionals want to fill-up their meeting dance card with required supplier appointments and group presentations? It’s like exhibitor speed dating on steroids where you are required to meet with others in order to get free transportation, lodging, food and registration.
So why do suppliers pay upwards of $4,500 in participation fees, plus travel, lodging and expenses to meet with qualified buyers. In theory, this sounds like a great way to get leads and prospective clients. Some suppliers see it as a positive public relations move. But is the ROI really there? Are planners accepting these invitations and changing their bias because of the free trip?
The Timeshare Fiascos
In the 1990s, Americans experienced a rise of good news congratulatory phone calls and direct mail marketing pieces. Here’s how the timeshare process usually works.
Timeshare representatives invite several hundred people to a presentation that explains the terms, benefits, conditions and price of the property or properties they have to offer. Vacations packages, vehicles, cash and other prizes are offered in exchange for attending the presentation.
When you attend a timeshare presentation, you enter a large room with festive music. You sit at a table with a designated presenter and the pitch begins. You can’t hear what is being said at tables next to you but every few minutes the music is turned low and another buyer/winner is announced. Typically these presentations are high-pressure sales pitches and closers who won’t take no for an answer. They will do anything possible to get you to give them additional information, sign an agreement or write a check. Like a game of three-card Monte, the presentation is about distraction, misdirection and luring you to a purchase.
Hosted Buyer Programs: Silver Bullets Or Timeshare Scams?
So how are hosted buyer programs (or destination fam trips for that matter) different than the timeshare presentations? Are hosted buyer programs just reinvented timeshare prize promises or are they the magical silver bullet for an ailing tradeshow industry? Do you think hosted buyer programs are ethical and worth attending? How do you feel about them?