Many of my friends in the industry will be happy to hear it is time once again to hear my thoughts on the annual summer industry conference, GBTA, in Los Angeles last week. I spoke to many of you that actually asked that I continue to write these opinions, even though I thought I was done. Two years ago I went on quite a rant, was falsely accused of much, so it was really my intent on retiring. And if this post was to be all negative, I would not have elected to write it. But it is not. Something may be happening. Change?
Not to say I will not be negative. Just not as much. So here are my top ten observations from GBTA in Los Angeles:
10. Trade Show Participants Feel Ripped Off - I have to believe the trade show floor is the cash cow for the GBTA organization. Now, many of the buyers I spoke to really love the show floor - meeting their suppliers in one large room as well as being introduced to new products and services. But as a supplier if you are being taken advantage of, you get a bad taste in your mouth. When you reach your breaking point - you pull out and try something else. So be careful - and maybe try something different - something that encourages growth in the tradeshow floor and the number participants that also makes it more cost effective.
9. Your President is doing a good job - Donna Kelliher, it appears as if you are listening. For that I tip my hat - because what you are doing cannot be easy. I have to imagine you have rounded up a short list of supporters to help you in your efforts, and I will keep them between us at this point, but way to go. I think you get it - and while some of these top ten items may upset you, I hope you take them as being thought out improvements that may have some merit. They may not as well, in which case just ignore them. In the end: keep it up, and keep doing what you are doing.
8. Benchmark Yourselves Against Other Organizations - How does GBTA rank against other non profit trade organizations - outside of just travel. What do other charge for - and what do others not charge for? Who gets the hotels closest to the trade show and the conference? Is it always the buyers? Understanding how you stack up against others will make all of us feel better if you are doing a good job - but it also opens you up to comments if you are doing a poor job. But isn't this how you improve?
7. Women in Travel - Full disclosure: As an advisor this group, I am working with the measurement committee to determine how we measure success. I am optimistic in the role we can play to elevate women in our industry to higher positions in senior management. But to be successful we must include all women of all organizations in the leadership of this group. And we must not just say we are inclusive - we must go out and recruit them to play in the same sandbox. I heard many tell me they do not feel like it is for them because it is a closed club - so let's all be careful to include everyone.
6. Financial Transparency - By law, there is a requirement to release certain tax returns and other information, but I would like GBTA to give up what is happening on a volunteer basis. Make it a tab on the website - how are you all doing from a P&L perspecive - open your books let your members and owners (because i think all members are in fact shareholders) know what is going on. You might just open yourself up to criticism but I think in the end you become a better organization as a result. In fact, even high salaries could be substantiated by the results of the organization - or not.
5. Ill Timed Stupid Press Release - The conference last year was kind of sad - a lot of on stage bickering and ranting - and since the conference the year was mostly quiet. My guess is see #9. Our volunteer president went to work behind the scenes to get things aligned and start her work in her first term. Then we get a press release that GBTA is suing the unknown emailer claiming things against the board. Once again a press release. I do not care if a) they file suit or b) the press catches wind of it. But a formal paid press release? Give me a break - and do not slip back into the old bad habits.
4. Logistics - What is the best first impression you can demonstrate during a conference? Honestly it is the first official event - and yes - registration is important too as that may leave a bad taste if it goes wrong - but the opening event was a disaster - a complete failure after so many years of doing this. I was stunned - the line and the comments. I stayed around just listening to what people had to say - and trust me it was not good. You need to do a better job - and after this many years I just do not know why we cannot get it right. Oh, and while this might have been out of your control - that bird in center stage was a huge distraction.
3. Separate Sponsorship from Education - I never made it to an education event - always had client meetings - but everyone I spoke to said at least one was simply a commercial for a product or service. The quickest way to disengage your audience is to make it a commercial. So that means there were many good and great education sessions which is great news for GBTA and the members - but I think two organizations within GBTA must be separate and distinct in how they are run and managed. Hopefully that will improve the sessions even more.
2. Be seen and not heard - I cannot be the sole judge of this observation - but there was a lot more of the seen but not heard at this conference. Kudos to Kevin Maguire for how much I saw him just attending the conference and trade show and talking to people - there were many other board members as well - but I did not see everyone. Maybe they were out there and I just missed them (or behind the scenes getting ready) - but keep that up - love to see you out there - less on stage.
1. Reduce the number of Days - I think it is time to rethink how long this goes on - or maybe how it is structured. This one may not be easy since the trade show is part sold on premise that there are ten hours of show time - even though very few attend on Wednesday. So maybe rather than just doing the old way of doing things you mix it up and see what might happen. Change is good after all, isn't it?