Interview: "Events will combine with digital and represent the core marketing strategy for many"

Photo: RTE

Photo: RTE

RTE: How did you get into this industry?
Vanessa Cotton:
Straight after graduating from university I was lucky enough to be offered a job organising British groups at overseas exhibitions. I spent the next eight years working my way up in the trade show world and became a board director of a leading organising company in my late 20s. I then started my own company, which evolved into a 30-person agency marketing and organising conferences, exhibitions and events for clients all over the world. I sold the business in 2004 and then joined ExCeL London, where I spent four years as Managing Director of its new conference and events division.

What does your position at RTE entail?
My role as the Chair of Reed Travel Exhibitions meetings and incentives events is a new one, which I began in June. I work with the team on the strategic development of the portfolio and its constituent events, engage with all the major industry associations and key players worldwide as well as act as a spokesperson to the industry community.

It is an exciting role for me, as joining Reed - the largest exhibition company in the world - as chair of its meetings and incentives events has meant going back to my roots in many ways. I am back amongst organisers again, working with an established and successful team to help them take their events to a new level.

How strong is the RTE meetings portfolio team?
With such an established portfolio of international meetings and incentives events, RTE has developed and nurtured a strong team of individuals, many who have been with the company for several years and have played major roles in the growth of our exhibitions. The team has a mix of skills in management, finance, sales, education, marketing and PR, with an enviable reputation for putting on successful events that deliver fantastic ROI for both exhibitors and visitors.

How many shows are in the portfolio and how are they faring?
Reed Travel Exhibitions’ global meetings industry portfolio of events includes EIBTM in Barcelona, CIBTM in China, GIBTM in Abu Dhabi, and AIME in Australia. We are also on track to launch AIBTM in America in 2011.
What has been particularly pleasing to report is that figures for CIBTM, GIBTM and AIME in 2009, on the back of record EIBTM 2008 numbers, show the importance the industry is placing on RTE events and their brand values of best business, best professional education, best networking opportunities and Hosted Buyer Programmes, delivering quality business enquiries and return on investment.

With EIBTM, CIBTM, GIBTM and AIME being officially and independently audited, the portfolio’s flagship event EIBTM last year saw total attendance increase by over 31% since 2006, reaching 8,131. Hosted Buyers were up 12% to 3,725, with a 29% increase over 2007 in pre-scheduled appointments, which topped 51,000. Additionally, over 2,600 delegates participated in the education programme – 30% up on 2007. The event attracted 75 new exhibitors; 54 exhibitors took increased stand space and a total of 138 group co-ordinators attended.

This year’s CIBTM, which took place this month in Beijing’s China National Convention Center 35% larger than the last CIBTM in 2007. A key initiative launched at the event was the announcement by RTE to create and launch the first week dedicated to the Meetings, Events and Incentives (BT MICE) industry in China.  Co-hosted and supported by the Beijing Tourism Administration (BTA), CIBTM will be the pivot for the week which the organisers hope will bring support from the private sector, local and regional authorities, the industry Associations and CIBTM participants.

GITBM in Abu Dhabi equally, has seen a substantial growth of 56% since its launch in 2007, attracting a visitor attendance – visitors and Hosted Buyers - of 1,693, up nearly 15% on 2008. A further 158 attended as media or speakers. This made GIBTM 2009 the largest ever gathering of meeting professionals in the Gulf.

AIME 2009, in Australia, also bucked the current climate increasing its total attendance by 10% on the previous year with a total of 3,581. Over a three year period the event has grown by over 35%.

These results prove both the resilience of the meetings and incentive industry and the sector’s recognition of all our international events as places to conduct business, meet new buyers, achieve objectives and drive return. The events are a testament to the need and importance of bringing buyers and sellers face to face to do business.

What is the future of these shows? Where do you foresee them going?
We want to take all the shows in the portfolio to a new level, making them even more relevant to the people and organisations that exhibit and visit them. This will include some exciting new initiatives and an innovative development of the shows’ educational content.

Where do you see the future of the meetings industry?
Conferences and business events are a powerful medium and UK companies for example already spend around 11% of their marketing budget on them.
In a tough and challenging competitive market, research has also shown that it is organisations that maintain or increase their marketing budgets that stay ahead of the game, that thrive; those who cut budgets are having  to face the consequences of doing so.
Given that events can deliver compelling and effective marketing and communication messages and offer brand experiences in a way no other medium can replicate, I see this percentage of spend continuing to grow. Also, my belief is that in future, events will combine with digital and represent the core marketing strategy for many companies and associations.

The Interview has been done by Reed Travel Exhibitions for EIBTM express.