If You Streamline It, They Will Come – Brand USA’s New Zealand Expos

When Gate 7 took over management of Brand USA’s New Zealand Travel Trade expos, they wanted to find new ways to increase attendance, maximise engagement, and boost travel agents’ destination knowledge of the United States.

By removing key barriers to attendance and gamifying prizing mechanics, the team received nearly universal praise for the events, with 95% of attendees rating the experience “very good” or ”excellent.” The engaging content and entertaining schedule helped agents retain destination information, with 98% stating they were more confident selling the USA following the event.

Background and Challenge

For nearly four decades, U.S. travel and tourism operators and DMOs have run annual exhibitions to travel agents in New Zealand, showcasing new products, destination updates, and providing key information to help retailers make the sale. Since 2016, the organisation of these expos has been run by Gate 7’s Brand USA team.

Each February, two events (one in Auckland, and another alternating each year between Wellington and Christchurch) combine an expo-style forum for interaction with a sit-down meal complete with prizes and presentations from key suppliers.

Working within the constraints of the organisation’s model, the events have to be strictly cost-neutral, creating a logistical and creative challenge each year as the team strives to continually increase attendance, maximise engagement and provide added value to attending travel trade and exhibiting suppliers.

Strategy and Solution

Long-haul holidays to the US are often longer and more complex with travellers making stops in several states. Because of this, agents selling the USA must have a deep and broad understanding of all the different opportunities and locations available. The Brand USA Travel Trade Expos address this challenge by bringing agents – new and experienced – up-to-date with the vast offerings of the entirety of the United States. Due to the U.S. booking cycle in-market, the February expos correlate with New Zealand’s peak booking period for flights into the U.S., making the expos quite valuable for Kiwi agents selling the USA.

Filtering agents through each of the often 40-strong supplier contingents presents some logistical challenges in the allotted time, so Gate 7 looked at ways to deeply engage agents with a smaller sub-section of exhibitors while allowing time for specific enquiries to be answered throughout the event. Knowing that the expansive prize pool is a huge drawcard for agent attendance at the expo, Gate 7 gamified the prize draw to require engagement with suppliers through exhibitor-specific answers on attendee crossword puzzles distributed at the beginning of the event.

Suppliers loved the gamified crossword puzzle prizing mechanic because it provided structure to the conversations they have with agent attendees while highlighting key information that needed to be shared. As the event has grown, we’ve seen that more engaged and interested suppliers have in-turn driven significantly more engaged attendees.

Of course, all the other expected trimmings of a fantastic event, such as celebrity MCs, substantial food and beverage, and a central venue location each contribute to outstanding attendance each year. The recent addition of free transportation for local agents to the venue helped remove possible barriers of attending like finding and paying for parking.

Results and Learnings

The Brand USA New Zealand Expos are some of the most anticipated events on the travel trade calendar. With over 350 agents attending annually in Auckland, and over 100 agents in Christchurch and Wellington, 95% of attendees rate their experience at the events as “very good” or ”excellent,” and the events sell out within days of registration opening. The expos are more than just engaging and entertaining time for attendees though. Agents note the wealth of information they gained through the expo, with 98% saying they feel more confident in selling the USA, and 70% more likely to recommend specific cities or states.

There has been a 54% growth in attendance since 2017, and, thanks to the support of long-term supplier relationships, steady development in the number and breadth of suppliers. The New Zealand market is proving more and more attractive to USA destinations and travel products, which makes the expos increasingly important for agents to stay abreast of information and developments. For instance, in 2012, with only two airlines flying between New Zealand and the U.S., only Air New Zealand attended the expos. By 2020, six airlines were servicing routes between New Zealand and the United States, and each was represented during the events.