By Astrid Zeppenfeld
New year – new format. For the Missouri Meetings & Events St. Louis Expo, at least.
After bringing a new layout to our yearly business expo in the fall 2018 Kansas City show –MeetUp!KC – we decided to try out this new and improved version of our successful MM&E Expo in St. Louis this year. Can you really say “new and improved”, ever? I have always argued that it should be either new or improved, but that it could never really be both at the same time. On May 19th and 20th, I was taught differently. The Spring 2019 MeetUp!’ NEW format IMPROVED our standard business expo in many ways! Instead of walking through rows of individual booths where exhibitors and suppliers greet planners from behind long tables, this networking opportunity by appointment, at individual highboys, seemed more casual and relaxed than it is often the case at any regular expo. Granted, our industry is more casual than many and encounters seldom feel forced in any way – that’s why it’s such a fun industry. So much so that Ward Franz, Director of the Missouri Division of Tourism, and our luncheon keynote speaker, says, “This is such a fun industry; if I had known how great this industry was, I would have gotten into it right out of high school, through the back door, instead of going through politics.” In any case, first feedback seems to indicate that this year’s attendees enjoyed this format, be it for no other reason than that it was different and variety is, after all, the spice of life.
Should you have had to miss this year’s opportunity for networking and fun, let us provide you with a recap. The Spring 2019 MeetUp! started on Sunday evening with a reception at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel and Conference Center – Chesterfield. Over delicious hors-d’oeuvres and cocktails, planners and suppliers got a jump on networking. Bright and early Monday morning, everyone got to meet again over breakfast – there were little quiches, empanadas, even individual skillets with eggs over potatoes!
Luncheon Keynote Speech, presented by the Saint Louis Area Hotel Association After an hour’s worth of shaking hands and talking business, followed by the valuable education sessions, everyone met again for a surf & turf luncheon. The steak was out-of-this-world!
To quote Mike Bishop, Director of North American Sales at Kleertech, “I have to tell you that was the best hotel luncheon food I’ve had in many, many years.”
Let us quickly recap Ward Franz’ speech and its valuable information: As tourism is an essential component of our industry, this speech started off with the good news that, in 2018, the state of Missouri saw more than 42 million visitors! The bad news is that, unfortunately, it is still often referred to as a “flyover state”, and we need to change that. Ward Franz is very optimistic that we can change this perception; “We have a great product – we just need to get the word out! City, county, and even state lines – they don’t really exist anymore.”
Amen to that. One of the attendees I spoke with traveled all the way from Iowa because her resort enjoys plenty of business from northern, western, and eastern states; however, not many visitors from Missouri make the trek up to Iowa very often. Some state lines are bolder than others and often, we like the convenience of holding our yearly meeting within a couple of hours’ drive from the office. We think we are making it easier on our employees. And, for many, it is nice to attend the meeting during the day and then drive an hour back to be with the family at night. For many others, being close enough to drive back, should the baby start crying at night, makes them unable to fully concentrate in the meetings. Brenda Newbern, Executive Director at Visit Cape, sees the benefit in cooperating with surrounding states in the Midwest. “There are so many things to see in the Midwest. Instead of competing with each other, we can gain more by uniting and making the Midwest a destination for travelers, because we all win when we make it a destination that tourists want to visit!”
Considering that anyone traveling the famous Route 66 invariably has to cross through the state of Missouri, it was great to hear that there is a company in Chicago which rents out 55,000 motorcycles every summer to motorcycle enthusiasts desiring to ride Route 66. And with new Missouri legislation of doing away with helmet laws for riders over the age of 18 – the minimum age for vehicle rentals – this state could see quite a bit more motorcyclists crossing the border from Illinois; a state which has not required helmets anywhere in decades. This means more tourism opportunities for Missouri, with traveler being defined as “a person who travels more than 50 miles”, according to the Missouri Department of Tourism. Of course, this is above and beyond the 2.9% annual TEI growth in tourism the state has enjoyed over the last decade, according to Franz. Visitors’ expenditures alone were up 1.7% in 2018, totaling $13.5 billion, most of which was spent in retail, with lodging coming in second in St. Louis, according to an analysis by VISA. Franz also brought everyone up to speed on the Show-Me state’s “This is your show-campaign”. The Department of Tourism handed out Go-Pro cameras to families and allowed them to film their adventures traveling in Missouri. Those films were made into a marketing campaign titled “That’s our show so go plan yours @ visitmo.com.”
More good news that will hopefully boost tourism: Recognizing that the entire state of Missouri really only has one international flight going in and coming out (Icelandair to and from Kansas City), other drive-in travel states and Missouri have joined forces to market internationally. The Great River Road Group, for example, is comprised of all the states which border the Mississippi River. Currently, this group is trying to tap the Asian market, as rivers are of utmost importance there – both for tourism as well as regular commerce.
Other efforts to boost tourism in Missouri include Instagram pictures with a focus on dreaming, aimed at the woman of a household, who is often the family member coming up with initial travel destinations. The Facebook pictures, by contrast, are focused on the planning phase of traveling. Another point of Franz’ speech was that since film tax credits have been gone for the past seven years, we will, as a state, continue the fight to get those credits back. Franz cited destinations which people still visit today, just to see them even though the films which made them popular are sometimes decades old.
You won’t get a film tax credit, but if you are ready to hit YouTube and other social media with your own videos. Denise Naughton from Brand You Media offered just the education session for you! With many tips and tricks on how to make great videos that people will watch – even with just a cellphone – where to post those videos so you can reach the intended audience, how often to post your videos, and what social media outlet(s) to use, everyone walked out of her education session energized to take business to new levels.
Reasons for attending Naughton’s session ranged from learning how to incorporate videos into trade shows to making proposal videos, from looking for microphone tips to just generally wanting to ramp up the social media presence of the business by showcasing events or client testimonials. One attendee’s company ‘s managed from New York and is often requiring the use of East Coast stock photos or other media for Midwest advertising campaigns, which obviously look nothing like the Midwest and do not seem to work as well. Naughton was able to provide new ideas for social media specifically tailored to the Midwest market.
Probably the thing which resonated with all her attendees was how Naughton alleviated any fears one might have had about getting on camera and making videos to post was this: “Just do it. You are not the craziest thing anyone is going to see out there today because there are people posting videos who are intentionally TRYING to be crazy.”
A second education session at our Spring 2019 MeetUp! – Saint Louis included best possible policies and controls to implement during the worst possible scenarios which could impact an event, led by Rob Schaefer – Creative Director for bleu Events. Schaefer shared a list of tips and best practices to keep your attendees safe. In this day and age, safety definitely always comes first.
Last, but certainly not least, Marcus Strauther, CEO and Creative Brain of Brainstorm Media Group, addressed challenges with an event that attendees brought to his education session on finding solutions for event problems. Stauther took those challenges, examined them, and provided immediate feedback to them – whether it happened to be naming, promoting, celebrity acquisition, venue selection, food / beverage theming, or promotional product giveaways.
So, the initial feedback we received at this MeetUp! has been very positive, but – as usual – we will take all your feedback forms, evaluate them, share the results with you, and then look forward to planning next year’s MeetUp! around all the positive feedback you’ve given us, while taking any constructive feedback into consideration to ensure next year’s Expo or MeetUp! will be improved yet again. Thank you for being a part of this!
Astrid Zeppenfeld is a writer and MM&E’s editor/business development manager from St. Louis.