The cost of exhibiting at AIME in Melbourne could have a negative effect on the show in the years to come. By Brad Foster

The cost of exhibiting at the industry’s annual leading event is leaving many long-time supporters questioning their participation, with some citing similar costs to exhibit at business event shows in the U.S. to that of exhibiting at AIME.

Some believe that the show is not providing a good cross-section of all the elements that go into making a conference or incentive travel reward effective, believing that the cost of purchasing a stand is too expensive for small operators and is hurting the event as a whole.

As all meeting planners would attest to, a conference is the sum of many parts, not simply the destination and venue. Despite this, small suppliers to the meetings industry are not being represented at AIME. What this potentially means is buyers are not being given a true marketplace of everything that is available to make their events work.

One exhibitor, who wished to remain anonymous, told micenet AUSTRALIA they struggle each year to attract diversity of product on their stand due to the costs associated with exhibiting.

“We believe that this is preventing us from showing the great depth of product and services available in our destination.

“It is now only the bigger players that can afford to exhibit. We have endeavoured to come up with incentives and initiatives to encourage smaller operators to join us, however, due to the high costs of us exhibiting we aren’t in a position to heavily subsidise smaller operators. We are also finding that the bigger operators, the ones that you used to be able to rely on year on year, are reconsidering whether they will exhibit due to the costs and the increased need for this activity to deliver ROI to their business.

“As a destination we want to support AIME because it is an excellent show and it does provide a great forum to meet face to face with potential decision-makers, however, it is becoming more and more challenging to get product and services to join us. Each year we need to review our participation and it is becoming harder to get the number and range of products and services to exhibit alongside us.”

One long-time New Zealand exhibitor told micenet AUSTRALIA they are presently debating the value of exhibiting at AIME because of the costs.

“It has got to the point where I’m really questioning the value. The exhibition stand and pre-scheduled appointment costs are close to $10,000. Add to that the costs of a stand build and we are looking at $15,000,” the exhibitor said.

“We have exhibited at IMEX America for the past three years and the cost to us including airfares and six nights’ accommodation is less than the cost of exhibiting at AIME. These costs make it impossible for smaller operators to even consider AIME which is a shame as it dilutes the product offering.”

Another exhibitor said the cost of exhibiting at AIME was double the cost of exhibiting at a number of European and U.S. based events.

“The high price means many exhibitors we know are currently assessing whether they will attend AIME,” they said.

Another exhibitor agreed that AIME was expensive but did not believe comparisons could be made to exhibiting at international events which are often heavily subsided by an umbrella marketing body. They did agree, however, that it was difficult to get smaller and more unique products at AIME due to cost.

The individual said this was a negative for regional areas that had a lot of small businesses working in the business events space.

“Destinations that are serious about the business events industry but don’t have big budgets are really caught because your absence is noticed if you are not there,” they said.

Director of Managing Australia Destinations, Byron Kurth, said MAD exhibited at AIME for about 15 years in one form or another until they stopped doing so a few years ago.

“No matter which way we did it we were always questioning the ROI. We participated with a number of regional stands as well as on our own. We did it with and without pre-scheduled appointments, and still weren’t convinced,” he said.

Kurth said from MAD’s perspective the cost of exhibiting was also a factor in why they ceased exhibiting.

“Even participating with a bureau on a shared table is cost prohibitive for a lot of operators. When you are a company like ours that needs to be multi-destinational, and given the rules and regulations these days around what suppliers you are allowed to use within the facility, means that a sole 3mx3m booth in the standard area with appointments, ends up being a 20K exercise.

“Given that the corporate budgets are getting tighter, and that the quality of hosted buyers is not what it used to be, it gets very hard to get your ROI. It is for these reasons that we choose to spend our marketing budget elsewhere.”

Director of sales and marketing at the Adelaide Convention Bureau, Martin Radcliffe, says AIME is an important event and has the most value for the bureau and its members when they exhibit as a large Adelaide/South Australia collective, with a mix of shared and sole appointments.

“The buyers are shopping by destination over brand, we feel, and this way value is gained and we are able to pass on only the cost price to our members,” Radcliffe said.

“I would suggest that for stand-alone operators or smaller destinations who are not able to exhibit as a collective that the AIME organisers do get more creative and tier the level of presence into some more varied pricing models.”

AIME responds

In response to the comments, AIME marketing and sponsorship manager, Axelle Mabille, told micenet AUSTRALIA the company understands how important it is for big and small operators to collaborate with each other, and AIME is dedicated to encouraging all connections within the business events industry.

“We have designed our exhibiting packages in order to allow all businesses to participate at AIME 2015. With this in mind, we have introduced the Business Events Pavilion with six square metre shell scheme stands (furnished) in the standard zone accessible from $4900 (inc. GST). Larger stands such as nine square metres are accessible from $7041.10 (inc. GST). Our packages can be tailored to suit different business needs,” Ms Mabille said.

“Our sponsorship / branding opportunities start from $1500 and they have become increasingly popular to exhibitors willing to gain brand exposure, generate publicity and promote their products through an integrated brand experience. Selecting a sponsorship at AIME allows you to design a tailored brand experience that increases your exposure and generates strong brand engagement. There is a myriad of sponsorship opportunities to ensure there is a perfect fit for every brand to create a powerful impact.”

micenet AUSTRALIA asked Ms Mabille whether AIME had ever thought of subsidising the cost of exhibiting to non-destination and non-venue operators to give buyers a broader perspective on product. She said last year the Events and Services Pavilion was created in order to support more business products and services.

“Small and medium size operators from a more diverse background have been able to join us for the first time and they want to come back. They were offered the opportunity to gain exposure to the larger exhibitors and generate new business leads with hosted buyers. Their participation at AIME is valued by all our attendees as they often represent the products and services that our visitors, exhibitors and hosted buyers need the most. For example, in 2014, we welcomed the IT software company Events Pro and the Speakers Book that business events professionals commonly use. The Events & Services Pavilion will be there to welcome them again.

“Small and medium size companies that exhibit at AIME for the first time tend to choose a Pavilion shell scheme stand as it provides them with a great opportunity to test the market before coming back the year after as a main stand holder. All exhibitors are equally welcomed and we provide them with the professional marketing tools to promote their business prior, during and after the show.

“As a result of this, 88 per cent of this year’s exhibitors plan to come back to AIME 2015.”

Ms Mabille said Reed works very closely with the larger destination exhibitors “and we understand how crucial it is for them to showcase a broad selection of products and services that translate the diversity of their offering. Our overall objective is to provide a forum for all industry members to network, do business and share industry knowledge. Exhibiting partners can maximise their chances to participate at AIME by keeping close ties with their destination exhibitors.

Ultimately, it’s the destination’s decision to bring them on board as an integrated part of their stand.

“For the purpose of showcasing the diversity of their offering and include a larger variety of exhibiting partners, some destinations provide different industry segments’ rates in the same way we provide different location rates to accommodate big and small organisations. We encourage the destinations willing to undertake such an initiative to contact us for further information.”

She said the most cost effective way to participate at AIME is to book early and plan ahead.

“When each dollar counts, the AIME team has been focused on identifying opportunities to add value for all attendees. Each year, we endeavour to raise the quality of our buyers, exhibitors and visitors’ experience by introducing new initiatives that last in time.

“Two years ago, we successfully invigorated the show floor experience with new initiatives such as the A List Open House which featured events products and services in one area and the Future Events Experience which was an interactive area showcasing the latest in technology. This year, the A List Open House was brought back by popular demand and we introduced the Innovation Zone, which was conceived as an interactive showroom for the latest ideas and innovations for our industry, as well as an International Pavilion for showcasing products from Europe, African and Asian markets.

“These initiatives have been so successful that we will replicate them again next year. Now saying that, we have developed a new floor plan that is going to integrate these key features as well as maximise the way people interact and do business on the show floor.

“We want every AIME attendee to feel they have really benefited from the time and money they invested in attending. The result of our efforts is incontestable when 93 per cent of our exhibitors agreed that AIME 2014 offered a good and excellent return on investment. On top of this, 98 per cent of visitors were satisfied and completely satisfied with the quality of companies exhibiting, and 98 per cent of our hosted buyers agree that AIME is very important to their business. Our challenge is to keep building on this.”