AIBTM Rebrands as IBTM America with Radical Format Shift for Chicago 2015

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AIBTM Rebrands as IBTM America

Buyer Krista Reimer, managing director of Blue Nest Events

This week in Orlando at the meetings industry trade show formerly know as AIBTM, it was announced that the exhibition is undergoing a total overhaul to become a leaner, more tightly curated buyer/supplier experience.

The newly rebranded IBTM America is part of the IBTM Events portfolio—with dedicated trade shows in Europe, China, India, Africa and the UAE—operated by the Reed Travel Exhibitions group, which includes World Travel Market in London.

Revolving each year between Orlando and Chicago, IBTM America has an all-new format for 2015. In Chicago next year, all exhibitors will be seated in identical 10×10 two-person booths provided by IBTM, with each emblazoned with the supplier’s individual branding. Destinations with multiple regions attending can combine booths, paying $9,500 per module.

IBTM is also limiting the list of invitation-only participants to 250 buyers and 250 suppliers. The one-to-one ratio is a proactive effort to create the best matchup of business appointments possible, based on mutual requests.

“For the last six months we’ve been talking to our customers and listening to their feedback, and their number one priority remains the one-on-one, face-to-face business meetings,” said Sallie Coventry, portfolio director, IBTM Global Events Portfolio. “We wanted to create a solution where exhibiting could be simple and hassle free, enabling our exhibitors to focus on the key reasons for being at a tradeshow—business. Our high-quality turnkey product means the customer can arrive at the show ready to go, having invested their valuable time in preparing for those all-important business meetings rather than worry about the logistics of exhibiting.”

Coventry explained that the overall ratio of participant demographics will remain about the same. Exhibitors are expected to be 60% U.S. and 40% international. The buyers are typically around 80% U.S.; 20% international.

The new format and attendee size are a direct response to the growing size of IMEX events in Las Vegas and Frankfurt, as well as the addition of new regional shows around the world every year. IBTM honchos needed this significant revamp in the overall user experience to differentiate the show, and they have certainly accomplished that.

Meanwhile, the event tech Innovation Zone was highly popular and will remain in next year’s iteration, with a small event stage, Tech Bar and over a dozen tech vendors. The equally popular Education Series of sessions will also remain in place.

Industry media will still be attending the show, but it hasn’t been decided yet how they will fit into the overall event architecture.

The whole vibe and energy are changing too. Next year’s IBTM America will not be located at the convention center due to the smaller size. There will also be a more exciting layout with a more lounge-like appeal, where exhibitors will surround a central networking area with refreshments and entertainment.

This year, the hosted buyer lounge was located in a corner, and numerous planners mentioned it wasn’t a very exciting experience. For 2015, by focusing all of the energy into the center, and livening up the ambience, IBTM America will be more in tune with modern Meeting Design exemplified by next gen conferences such as C2MTL in Montreal, LE Miami in Miami, and SXSW in Austin.

We spoke at length with Michael Lyons, exhibition director for IBTM America, to learn more about the show’s dramatic evolution.

Prevue: What motivated the change for IBTM America 2015 in Chicago?

Michael Lyons: We started this process many, many months ago. We’re trying to look at the big picture and take into account what our buyers and suppliers are telling us. As the industry calendar continues to grow and grow and grow with multiple events, it becomes a matter of choice, and that choice is based on time and investment in dollars. So if you’ve got 40 events in a year, and you know you can only go to four or five, which ones are you going to pick? You’re obviously going to pick the ones that are most valuable to you.

So we looked at the landscape and we saw how things were changing in the trade show business, with these new tabletops and other models like hybrids popping up. And in listening to our own exhibitors and our own buyers, we readily admit that this year we have less buyers and we have less suppliers that came here to Orlando than they did Chicago last year.

So we’ve been talking to a lot of people about that. Why is that? And there’s a variety of reasons, but we can narrow it down to few big ones. People told us: “I’ve got too much to do and I’ve chosen another show. You don’t have the type of exhibitors that I want to meet. Your show is too expensive. For your show I can’t get enough of my exhibiting partners.”

So these were some of the reasons people told us why they couldn’t come this year, even though they may have come last year or even the year before that.

Prevue: And what did you hear from buyers?

Michael Lyons: We went out and surveyed the buyer community also, and you know, same thing. We get buyer feedback about which exhibitors they want to meet with, some of which aren’t coming this year. Germany’s not here this year. Italy’s not here this year. Those are two major countries in the top 10 of what American buyers want to learn about.

Prevue: So you’ve made major changes. What are you most excited about in 2015?

Michael Lyons: So as a part of going through this entire process, we now feel that we have pulled out of all of that a model that we think has a great chance to succeed. We are the world’s leader in trade shows, so we should be blazing the path, we should be innovators, we should be leaders. We should be the one who is trying new things. And so we believe by taking the show and condensing it a little bit down to a 250/250, one-to-one ratio, that we can go out and really get the high, high, high, premium quality buyers that our exhibitors want to me with.

Conversely, we can make sure that we have the right exhibitors that those high quality buyers want to meet. So it’s a two-pronged approach that we have to manage very carefully to make sure that we have good matching going on, whether its corporate, association, incentive, etc. We have a large database so we know who these buyers are. We know their purchasing patterns. We know where they come from. They tell us that when they apply. So we’re leveraging some of that data that we have to be able to create the best matchups that each side of the equation wants to have.

We are also going to have a completely different environment now. This will not be in a traditional conference center and tradeshow floor with aisles and aisles and aisles of big, big booths. We’ve leveled the playing field so that we have a limited number of 250 tradeshow booths that are going to be very handsomely designed which makes it a really easy turnkey, plug-and-play situation. Everything is included, they just show up.

What we’re trying to do is to create this sense of community so that everybody has a lot of touch points, eating together, networking together in this big central area, maybe with a DJ and more of a lounge energy. It may look different than this year, but the intent is to keep all the good stuff that people like, and integrate it and incorporate it.

Prevue: Do you anticipate this will bring back people who didn’t come this year?

Michael Lyons: Yes, absolutely. They’re the first people we’re calling next week. We know who they are, we know the people who we want to come back. And the people who have an issue with cost, there’s no more cost issues. Because what we’re providing them is great value. The problem today is you pay $7,500 for a slab of concrete. It’s just a bare floor. Then you have to bring everything else in, and by the time you add all of that up, it can be very expensive.

Prevue: We were really impressed with the Innovation Center organized by Dahlia El Gazzar at The Meeting Pool. What was some of the thinking behind that and feedback?

Michael Lyons: The feedback has been very good because it’s a place where people can come to get plugged in to what’s going on in the world of technology. And there are a lot of players on that innovation floor who have come to explain their products, along with everything happening at the Tech Bar.

We’re exposing and presenting all of the people to these technology applications, and what we tried do is take some of the intimidation out. You do that by setting up little areas where you just focus on one thing at a time. And the reason we have the stage and the steady stream of speakers all day long is so you can pick and choose the speakers you want to hear for 12 to 20 minutes explain a particular aspect of event technology, to help decide who you want to meet.

Those have been very well attended with 12 to 15 planners sitting at each presentation to learn about these products. Then they’ll go over and have the one-on-one, and say, “I don’t know how this Bizzabo app works. What the hell does that do?” A lot of people want to know, do I need to know more about this.

It’s one thing to know about all of these apps. It’s another thing to understand how to use them. And that’s what these guys at the Innovation Zone are trying to explain at IBTM America.

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