How to get the most out of travel trade shows...As a travel writer, I’ve enjoyed a myriad of perks. But my favorite benefit is the free trips.

The perks don’t come overnight, and they take time to cultivate. But if you have a plan and work your plan, attending travel trade shows can yield a goldmine of hosted travel.

I attended my first regional travel trade show in January of 2017. These shows bring together destinations, hospitality professionals, attractions, and buyers.

For media, travel trade shows are typically invitation-only, and the show hosts usually cover all associated expenses.

Before the event, you are given access to online scheduling, so you can choose specific destinations or attractions to meet with one-on-one.

Creating a spreadsheet that lists the elements or story angles I’m looking for is the next step. It’s critical to research destinations to determine if they align with the stories I’m seeking. If there is a common element, I add them to the spreadsheet and check off the common angles.

Following this, I make my appointment requests. Before the show, the host finalizes all appointments, and your schedule is emailed.

Arriving at the event, it’s game time. Business cards, press kit, and positive, smiling attitude in hand.

Your press kit or media kit is a one-page introduction. It should show who you are; what you do; social media; audience demographics; professional memberships; and contact information.

I walk in with a plan. I know the 3 Ws: Who I’m meeting; Why I want to meet them; What coverage I can offer.

I want to find out their Why. Why do they want to meet me? Then from that, I can share How I can help them. One-on-one meetings are short, lasting 9 to 15 minutes. This your chance to WOW them to get the final desired result—a press trip to their location.

Following the show, I send out two things. The first is an email dispatched within 24 hours of our meeting. It’s a very brief thank you note—with the subject line: “Thank you: Betsi Hill.”

The second is a handwritten thank-you note sent within 48 hours of returning home. I briefly outline why I want to come and visit them and finish with a call to action, “I look forward to discussing my May visit with you at your earliest convenience.” I enclose my business card and mail it.

Following the event, I return to my spreadsheet and add columns for the contact name, email, phone and address, and follow-ups. The spreadsheet tracks all the event information. The result is that I am offered media trips to the destinations that fit what I’m writing. My success rate is 89%.

In 2017, after attending two media trade shows, my husband Jim and I took 10 media trips. By February of 2018, I had 11 confirmed hosted media trips and two media trade shows, with more to come.

In summary, there are two pieces of advice I’d like to leave you with. The first is: have a plan, work your plan, and follow up. The second is: under-promise, over-deliver, and always thank your host in person and with a thank-you card after your hosted visit.

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