AIBTM 2013 Q&A: Exhibition Director Mike Lyons

Prevue spoke with Mike Lyons, exhibition director for AIBTM 2013 to discuss this years international MICE trade show.

Prevue: Can you explain AIBTM’s new vision for 2013?

Mike Lyons: This year’s AIBTM (The Americas Incentive, Business Travel & Meetings Exhibition, taking place June 11-13 at Chicago’s McCormick Place, will focus on creating opportunity for attendees to: “Define the Future of Meetings… Together.”

There has never been a better time to collectively set our sights on the future.  AIBTM will provide the environment and a platform to gather insights and perspectives on best practices and solutions to improve the overall outcome and ROI of meetings.With that in mind, AIBTM’s exhibition and educational program will offer numerous interactive opportunities to engage attendees and report these findings back to the industry both during (via social media)and after the show.

How is the international MICE trade show experience evolving?

We are seeing a continuous thirst amongst our attendees for innovation and shared information around ways to make meetings “smarter” and more effective. Even in a digital age, relationships and face-to-face exchange of information still matters, and in fact, is more important than ever. We are also seeing widespread acceptance of the Hosted Buyer model which has quickly become the industry gold standard.

What does AIBTM offer buyers/suppliers that’s unique in industry trade shows?

AIBTM’s Hosted Buyer program is truly a unique and efficient use of time for all attendees – buyers and suppliers alike. The HB model provides top-level meeting planners and decision-makers a pre-scheduled diary of appointments with exhibitors they want to see for focused one-to-one meetings. This novel and effective approach to doing business on the trade show floor yields very successful results.

We are happy to report that participation YTD from both exhibitors and GCOs (Group Coordinators) has far surpassed last year’s show numbers at this time – with GCO signups showing an increase of 40%. We expect a record number of attendees at AIBTM 2013, with approximately 3,500 buyers and exhibitors in attendance throughout the three days of the show.

As the new exhibition director, what are some your primary goals?

My overall goal is to make AIBTM the “Can’t Afford to Miss” Show by delivering significant return on investment for all of our stakeholders, and by creating a “wow” experience for all attendees. We also want to provide a crowd-sourcing platform to chart the future in this “new normal” business environment. We recognize that there are a lot of event and trade show choices on our delegates’ “purse strings”. Our job is to deliver the event that gets placed in their calendars year after year because the value and experience of attending AIBTM far outweighs any other options out there.

Everyone has a different definition of “innovation.” What’s yours?

Innovation is the ability to improve on an existing business, process, idea or product that improves on the way things have already been done. In these often challenging times, the imperative has been to innovate or perish. For the meetings industry, staying current with ways to optimize “the spend” and continuously improve on the customer experience are critical goals. I think our guests who attend AIBTM this year will like what we have in store for them.

What was the motivation for alternating between Chicago and Orlando?

Our rotation strategy has been very well received by the industry.  We believe it makes sense to hold AIBTM in the top tier U.S. cities we have selected: Chicago (2013, 2015) and Orlando (2014, 2016). Both are world-class destinations with excellent air service, fantastic hotel choices, terrific restaurants and superb convention centers. Year after year, both cities host thousands of conferences and are ranked in the Top 5 by meeting planners.

What are some of the primary trends that you’re seeing in the convention/conference industry?

Like most industries today, the primary imperative is doing more with less. But one thing remains clear: that technology can co-exist effectively within the context of face-to-face meetings. There’s something very tangible about meeting a prospect personally that moves the relationship to a new level. As one pundit puts it, we are living in a “kinship economy” where relationships still matter very much, particularly in business. Now more than ever, successful relationships are going back to basics: true, strong business bonds are built on trust and confidence and that traditional method, via face to face engagement, is in vogue and trending back in time.

What are some of the primary trends that you’re seeing in the incentive travel industry?

Like every segment of the travel business, incentive travel has taken the same (if not greater) economic hits as other sectors, resulting in a renewed focus on budget, selecting affordable yet attractive destinations, and working with suppliers to negotiate better pricing. These trends appear to be consistent with last year’s. AIBTM is partnering with SITE to create educational sessions at the show in Chicago to address the needs and issues that incentive planners have today.

Are there any specific sessions you’d like to highlight at AIBTM 2013?

We are very excited about presenting this year’s keynote session featuring J. Walker Smith, principal of the Futures Company, who will speak about the continued value of face-to-face relationships in the current “kinship economy”.

His observations conclude that face-to-face engagement is just as important now in a highly digital economy. When technology is used in a social way such as social media, it creates more of a demand for physical connection, not less. Smith also believes that this phenomenon has big implications for the meetings industry and we’re pleased to be able to provide this snapshot.

The keynote will be a part of the dedicated and interactive Education Day on June 11th with additional “fast-track” learning sessions on the show floor on June 12-13 during exhibition hours. These fast-track learning opportunities will give delegates the chance to slot in sessions “on the fly” in between their appointments with suppliers.

A new feature being introduced this year is a “Speakers Showcase” which will take place in the “Lecture Theatre” located on the exhibition floor. Professional speakers will have an opportunity to present samples of their talks in a 20-25 minute time frame, giving audience members a chance to see multiple speakers over the two days of the show. Speaker materials will be available to those interested in booking the speakers at their upcoming conferences.

The AIBTM website and social channels, such as the new AIBTM iMeet community will carry the latest news and information on this year’s event. We look forward to seeing everyone in the Windy City!