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85% say hosted buyer model must change: #EventPlannersTalk poll

An overwhelmingly majority of eventprofs polled at a packed Event Planners Talk breakfast meeting this week said they were convinced it is time for a change in the traditional hosted buyer model. The future model of fam trips and hosted buyer programmes was the focus of a wider #EventPlannersTalk breakfast discussion, held at The Caledonian Club in Belgravia, London, on 26 September. On the back of the recent emergence of an industry blacklist of alleged 'bogus' hosted buyers, Team Umbrella agency’s Martin Ellis moderated the lively Event Planners Talk discussion under the heading: ‘Hosted buyer programmes and fam trips – is it time for change?’ A poll of those attending gave the unequivocal answer ‘Yes’ to the question, by 85%, with an even higher percentage – 96% - claiming to have experienced programmes where participants didn’t warrant a place. A panel, including Virgin Atlantic’s partnership development manager Rebecca Duncan, defended the general principle of fam trips, however, explaining they would typically work with stakeholders – usually a trinity of airline, DMC and hotels - to screen applicants. “I’m more likely to take a risk with a freelancer or agent from a smaller company. They might just have that one client for us… But I’d rather have empty spaces on a fam trip than the wrong people,” Duncan added, but said she was wary of buyers who kept applying for the same experience. Rachelle Valladeres of Dezika suggested the practice of hosted buyers making some kind of refundable payment – to cover their airfare - conditional on attending meetings as one potential improvement to the old model. This had worked, she said, for her at IC&TM shows in Asia. However, one buyer pointed out that many large agencies simply refused to countenance paying to attend. There was an additional challenge of junior agency team members taking hosted buyer and fam places instead of their senior colleagues, and even being made to take the time as holiday. This, Virgin Atlantic’s Duncan said, was a problem that the agencies needed to address, as it had led to disinterested participation on trips. Jonny Martinez of Shocklogic noted that International Confex was one example of a “very successful show that doesn’t have a hosted buyer programme. We get lots of business there,” he said. Questions arising on sli-do from the audience included whether millennials were happy with the old model of hosted buyer programmes and whether the existing model was open to abuse. One message called such programmes “a tradition that has been around for many years”. Other contributors pointed out that hosted buyer programmes were often seen as “a numbers game” by organisers quite prepared to bring in ‘rent-a-mob’ to give their figures a boost. As to whether the industry should sanction blacklists, the mood of the audience seemed to be against it, instead calling for better screening and being stricter on ‘no shows”. “Naming and shaming is not the way forward,” the panel agreed. One Swiss supplier said in her country a site inspection rate had been introduced to meet specific concerns from the pharma sector. It was underlined, however, that hosted buyers can be an important revenue stream and some voices suggested creating a hybrid fam trip model incorporating VR. A drp representative tweeted: '#VR will complement a FAM trip but it will not replace the way it will make you feel in real life’. Keep the fam trip, but keep it real, seemed to be the consensus.