Have you noticed the decline in travel by site selectors? They have little time and often no budget to go shopping for opportunities in person. Increasingly they want the world to come to their doors, or rather, their computers.
Economic developers can find an opportunity in this trend. There’s a new type of web technology that has not been embraced yet by the ED community, but which is growing very rapidly in a number of industries affected by reduced global travel. It’s the virtual trade show.
A virtual trade show recreates on the web the experience of a conventional trade show by offering a one stop location for a themed collection of products, services, companies and/or regional attractions. You might have seen the type of show where visitors can enter “booths” and view descriptions provided by the vendor in the form of text, videos and other graphics, and links to websites with more information.
If that were all that virtual trade shows could offer there might not be much reason for excitement. But new technologies offer much more. A variety of companies including Expos2, Computer Generated Solutions, Onstream Media Corporation, Unisfair and others have developed products that could be truly transformational.
The capability now exists for economic developers to link their investment attraction websites to virtual trade shows where site selectors can watch live and on demand seminars, interact with presenters, engage with other attendees in chat rooms and with the world at large through social media, and view and download archived materials. Economic Development organizations can consider being hosts for community virtual trade shows in which they could track the visits and activity, and offer their businesses and industries interactive marketplaces open to the world.
Higher Leads, Lower Costs
In short, today’s virtual trade shows are designed to be lead generators. That’s one reason why there is rapidly growing interest in them by industries including real estate, hospitality, event planning, travel, tourism and retail.
There are other reasons. Conventional trade shows, though they are an essential part of generating new leads, are very expensive to mount and to attend. Small businesses wishing to take part are at a financial disadvantage, which is overcome on the web. The web also removes restrictions of time and place – the trade show can remain active for as long as there is an audience.
Speaking of audiences, conventional trade shows are having difficulty in maintaining attendance levels because barriers to travel are rising, particularly in the United States. A study by Oxford Economics, commissioned by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research and reported by www.expoweb.com, found that difficulties in obtaining visas prevented 116,000 international visitors from participating in US trade shows in 2010.
This is a significant issue for economic developers wishing to attract foreign direct investment. But, by presenting a community as a virtual trade show, the economic developer can:
- Customize the content to the marketing strategy and goals of the organization and its stakeholders
- Easily qualify leads and follow up with visitors
- Enhance the visibility of the community brand
- Increase efficiency by providing a central location for communications
Today there are very few economic developers using these advantages but those who become early adopters could position themselves at the leading edge of a profitable trend. Investment research firm OutsideIn Research reports that the virtual trade show and conference market is growing at an annual rate of 45 to 50 percent, with global revenues expected to reach $18 billion US by 2015.
A potentially significant development occurred August 23, 2011, when Onstream Media Corporation, which markets the MarketPlace365 virtual trade show platform, announced an agreement with ThinkGlobal Inc. to develop international online trade and investment marketplaces. US exporters and local, state, regional and national economic development organizations will be invited to use these marketplaces to reach potential buyers, distributors and international investors worldwide.
ThinkGlobal said the web based marketplaces will feature online lounges where exhibitors and attendees can network; extensive online media libraries and learning centers, seminars, webinars and full day virtual fairs each quarter.
ThinkGlobal is a print and online publishing company and is a corporate marketing partner of the US Commerce Department. Gregory Sandler, the company’s president, said in a release that the virtual marketplaces are intended to assist “in supporting the nation’s goals of boosting U.S. exports and increasing international investment in the United States.”
This is a clear indication that the new virtual trade show technologies might soon have a global impact. Economic developers need to consider whether they could have local impact, too.