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What’s the future of group travel trade shows?

With lockdown resulting in group travel trade shows moving online, the industry has started to question whether the traditional face-to-face show has a future. Wendy Hartley-Scarff, chief executive of the Association of Group Travel Organisers, considers what might happen.


During lockdown we’ve seen several, well-produced online trade shows, bringing together exhibitors and GTOs, and providing ideas and inspiration, and all from the comfort of your own home.

It’s been good, but you know, it really isn’t the same.

Wandering around a hall full of exhibitors gives you the opportunity not only to talk to them individually, and not only to discover new attractions or to have something exciting catch your eye, but also to meet fellow GTOs.

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Photograph courtesy of the BTTS

It is this social side of trade shows that I feel is often just as important as establishing new contacts. Talking with people you may not have seen for some time, or being introduced to new people, is another way to share experiences and forge new opportunities.

So for those reasons, I’d be keen to see face-to-face shows continue.

Of course, part of the reason for that is because four of them are shows postponed from 2020, and there’s a commercial imperative at work, with confirmations and bookings all carried forward.

I say four of them because the fifth is a new kid on the block. ‘London for Groups Live’ took place at the Strand Palace Hotel in central London on 31 August. Recognising that GTOs are only likely to attend if they can maximise their time in the Capital, organisers limited the exhibition element to just three hours in the afternoon. This allows GTOs to take advantage of some special discounts being offered by London attractions. There was even a special accommodation offer at the Strand Palace making a one or two-night short break an option. It’s an appealing package and shows an alternative to the larger, one-size-fits-all approach.

Our trade show summary reveals that apart from Excursions 2022, which moves from Alexandra Palace in north London to Twickenham Stadium in west London, little changes. The British Tourism & Travel Show (BTTS) remains the only two-day exhibition, and the only group travel trade event to be held at the NEC.

In any normal year of course we would have had BTTS in the March, and the Group Leisure & Travel Show in the October, a sensible interval of six months between them. This year, thanks to lockdown and postponements, there’s just two weeks. It will be interesting to see what this means in terms of exhibitor and visitor numbers.

So does all of this give us an idea of what the group travel trade show landscape will look like in the years ahead?

My own opinion is that we will see an increase in the number of smaller online shows, possibly focusing on specific geographic areas, and giving smaller attractions the opportunity to promote their group offers without the expense of taking part in traditional events. For larger exhibitions I think we will see a hybrid – face-to-face, and virtual for those who are unable to attend.

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