Conference Calling

imagesWhat are the merits of attending a conference?

In my last role there was an on going joke that I would attend the opening of an envelope, especially if that envelope opening was overseas. I like to think I took this joke well!

I used to attend multiple conferences a year, most if not all where overseas. As no one else in the organization really attended all assumed I was on a jolly, sometimes they were right but most of the time they were wrong.

I believe conferences can be valuable and beneficial but I’ve discovered it’s worth being careful when deciding to attend or not. Specifically, I now always look at

  1. Who’s going? I’m not really concerned if my current business partners / customers are attending or not unless a lot of them are in which case it can be a very efficient means to meet everyone and discuss trading. Yet more important for me are those attending I’d like to meet but have not yet had chance.
  1. Can I fulfill any business objectives? That may be gaining more business, signing a new partner etc.…
  1. Will I learn anything? Typically, conferences have speakers so I look to see who they are. More often than not there is a mix. I’ve always found some good and some awful / not relevant / boring. What I am looking for is what I can take away.
  1. I compare all of the above with cost. By cost I don’t just mean £, I mean opportunity cost. I look at time away from the office, time away from my family, time not working on projects etc.

Of the above point 1 for me is the most important. I see conference as a way of either strengthening existing relationships or forging new ones.

UnknownAs I write this I am in terminal 3 of Changi airport about to board to return to London. I’ve been attending the Web In Travel conference here, it’s been going for 10 years but I only heard about it recently.

It was one of the best conferences I’ve attended in a decade. Here’s why:

  • I met a lot of people from business overs (CC Lhang, owner Qunar), entrepreneurs, senior management, angel investors as well as seeing people I already knew.
  • Whilst I understand I am just starting a business and looking to international expansion 2 months in before I’ve even launched may look like madness on paper. However, I know that in 2 years time I will want to expand and I also know I won’t just be able to turn up and set up. I’ll need help. So, I came here to learn about the markets, see whom the major on line players are in Asia, meet them and build relationships. They now also know me of course, I suspect however I will prove not quite as useful!
  • I learnt loads about the culture and how things are done, the size of markets, what works hasn’t worked etc.…

A few speakers were not so good but then some were really excellent.

Unknown-1Whilst the conference is attended by the big boys in tech and travel (Google, Facebook, Expedia, Alibaba, Emirates, Booking.com, Car Trawler etc…) there are also loads of start-ups. The conference is only around 300 people so you get to meet many of those attending.

Yet, those from the big companie’s are senior as in founder, board level or senior management (CTO Expedia, CMO Trip Advisor, COO Booing.com, Founder/CEO Qunar, Founder Travelstart) whom it would be difficult to meet at any European or US conference.

Mix that with meeting start-ups, some doing well, some not doing well but that’s beside the point. It’s a cauldron of ideas, progression and enthusiasm. One guy I met has a travel business but also has a furniture business on the side, he supplies John Lewis! Another guy (a big player in the Swedish travel industry a few years ago) set up in South Africa and now has a leading business in the travel industry in Africa’s’ developing nations, one of very, very few.

Finally, meeting investors from Angels to VC’s to institutional all mixing with everyone else. I’ve never attended a conference with such a mix given there are so few attendees. Of course, we all went out to a bar, hence you meet a lot of people if you’re prepared to make the effort. I love a bar now and again so not much effort required on my part.

One of the big differences of the WIT conference vs. those I have attended in the UK/Europe is that WIT is international. The two big conferences (ABTA, ITT) in the UK are domestic. Why hasn’t anyone set up a curated international conference attracting major online European/US/Asian travel businesses actually in Euopre?

I love Singapore but it’s a long way to go. Phocus Wright hold an annual conference in the states which people rave about (a number of people asked me if I was going, they all stated it was the number one. I’m not going but I shall be next year).

There must be a gap for this type of event in Europe or I haven’t received my invite yet.

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