ASTA Expo in Los Angeles Draws Mixed Reviews, Fewer Tradeshow Attendees
By James Shillinglaw
September 09, 2012 11:09 PM
ASTA's Travel Retailing & Destination Expo, held in Los Angeles, Sept. 7-9, didn't exactly produce the delegate numbers promised a year ago at its event in Las Vegas. But ASTA officials are trying to put a good face on what for many exhibitors was a disappointing show that might put future events in jeopardy.
Nina Meyer, ASTA's president, chair and acting CEO, speaking at press conference on Sept. 8, said when all registrations were counted later this week, the expo would most likely draw a total of roughly 1,300 delegates, including travel agents, suppliers, media and other attendees. That number would "meet or beat" the number of delegates who attended the show last year in Las Vegas, she said.
But other officials and suppliers attending this year's show said they thought the actual number of delegates appeared to be much lower than those estimates. Some officials close to the expo put the total at between 600 and 800 delegates. At the opening general session on Sept. 7, there were an estimated 400 delegates, while a second general session on Sept. 8 drew roughly 200 delegates.
On the other hand, some 250 top agents and suppliers attended ASTA’s advocacy dinner on Sept. 8. Some seminars at the expo were very well attended, but others, especially on Sept. 9, drew well under 50 participants. Nevertheless, the tradeshow on both Sept. 7 and 8 was clearly lagging in both exhibitors and attendees.
LA Tourism officials, who a year ago said they expected nearly 3,000 delegates, said they disappointed in the turnout for the expo this year. One official pointed out that room blocks for this year's expo were not sold out at the event’s hotels, including the J.W. Marriott Los Angeles, Millennium Biltmore and Westin Bonaventure.
For her part, Meyer said ASTA had listened to its members in making the decision to select another location instead of alternating between Orlando and Las Vegas, which ASTA has done since 2005. She also pointed out that shows like ASTA's are much more challenging to stage today because agents and suppliers are choosing to go to more major consortium events.
At the same time, Meyer pointed out that representatives from three major travel networks are now on ASTA's board as national directors -- namely Travel Leaders Franchise Group President Roger Block, Vacation.com President John Lovell and Nexion President Jackie Friedman, all of whom are part of Travel Leaders Group. That would seem to indicate that Meyer might expect more support from consortia and other agency groups for the ASTA expo.
Meyer also said the ASTA expo was in the process of "morphing" into a much different event, most likely with a new name. Indeed, she pointed to the "huge differential" in the type of seminars and programs being offered at this year's show as evidence of the changes ASTA is trying to make. For example, this year's expo included a program with NTA on Hispanic travel, a program with Microsoft, a NACTA event. a new program with CLIA encouraging military veterans to join the travel agency business, and the Travel Bloggers show.
Whether ASTA's allied supplier members will continue to support the expo remains to be seen. Many were clearly dissatisfied by traffic at the tradeshow on Friday, with a number of suppliers suggesting that ASTA might be best served by getting out of the tradeshow business entirely.
One exhibitor suggested he might not be back to expo next year, but would seek to support ASTA in other ways. Another exhibitor said he saw a lot of ASTA premium agency members, since most of them did attend the show, but not a lot of volume in terms of other agents. “We’ll have to think about whether it’s worth it,” he said. Yet another exhibitor was clearly disappointed. “We won’t be back unless there’s a radical restructuring of the event and its marketing in order to attract more numbers.”
What ASTA’s plans are for its next domestic conference were unknown at press time. ASTA's new board of directors was scheduled to make a decision on a new venue at a meeting on Sept. 9. Possible locations being talked about include Chicago and Miami. But the expo will most likely need to be very different from what it has been in the past and may even be staged with a new ASTA partner, according to some suppliers familiar with ASTA's discussions.