I recently “attended” a virtual travel expo conducted by a major wholesaler, and I have to admit it left me feeling flat. Try as I might, I just can’t get excited about these online shows.
I understand all the arguments in support of virtual events (cost savings, time savings, wider reach, the ability to archive the content for future viewing, etc.) but if the experience itself is lacking, then no amount of savings is going to make it worth my time and attention. It reminds me of the question that many of us pose to our clients – “How cheap does a bad vacation have to be to make it worthwhile?”
I should be careful to say that I’m talking specifically about virtual expos and conferences, and not product-specific training. When I want to learn about individual cruise lines, resorts, and destinations, I make frequent use of online webinars. In fact, as a home-based agent, I think they are probably the best way to get this kind of training (there aren’t too many BDMs dropping by my house!)
However, when it comes to the recent rash of “Virtual Expos”, I just don’t think they’re worth the effort.
The ones that I’ve attended don’t really seem to have any meat to them. Sure, there are virtual booths where you can download brochures and fliers, but I can just as easily get those from the supplier web sites when I need them. There are chat rooms, but nothing of substance is being talked about (it’s mostly “Hi, how can I enter to win the prizes?”), and the pre-recorded presentations have been less-than inspiring.
To me, I just don’t think that a virtual expo can replicate the best aspects of a real, live, in-person conference – and that’s the give-and-take that happens when you put a bunch of agents and suppliers in a room together. When I attend industry shows like the Vacation.com conference or the Luxury Expo in Las Vegas, I come back energized and excited, with a notebook full of ideas and a business card file full of new contacts and connections.
Now, others may argue that the virtual expo is not meant to replace the real thing, but merely to provide another avenue for professional development. That may be the case, but we all know that suppliers and destinations have finite marketing budgets, and I would suggest that it’s better for them to invest their time and money in live events (regional and national training and conferences) than in the online variety. I would also suggest that agents would be better-served to get out of the office, leave the clients behind for a couple of days, and really focus on their own professional growth.
So, what do you think? Am I totally off base? Are the virtual expos a valuable addition to our continuing education, or an unnecessary diversion of resources? What could be done to make them more useful and valuable to front-line agents?
Ann Petronio is a travel consultant and the owner of Annie’s Escapes, Inc. in Cranston, Rhode Island. She creates custom-tailored vacations for busy couples, families and groups. www.AnniesEscapes.com
Publisher’s Note: Several publications, including TRO, have developed virtual expos. The reactions of suppliers and agents alike have been mixed. Ann’s comments are useful for all virtual show producers to take into account as they enhance their products for both agents and suppliers.