How do you turn a plain old trade show into the experience of a lifetime? Tony Mangano and his peers at HX, formerly the International Motel Hotel Restaurant Show, are getting ready to show the food service and hospitality world, how to do just that.
What’s behind the new name?
We’re trying to rebrand the show. Our main goal is to help exhibitors and attendees make connections. That’s what this show has always been about. We want to improve on that on a variety of levels. So we’ve changed it from IMHRS to HX, the Hotel Experience.
Why did you change it?
We wanted to make the show more exciting, more fun to go to, to hopefully keep the attendees on the floor longer and allow the exhibitors more time to make those connections. The show has always been about connections, and we wanted to improve on that. The original name was sort of old and long in the tooth; it didn’t really speak to the excitement and what the new concept would be. We went through a lot of brainstorming and “Rooms to Restaurants” is indicative of the breadth of the show. The experience talks about the actual feeling that you get from being in a place. When you go there, you should come away energized, with new ideas, go back to your job with some energy you derived from the experience you had there. That’s what the new name is all about.
So what will show-goers be treated to?
It’s not going to be like Disneyland! But we’re going to have Ted talks on the floor, music in the background. It was a kind of quiet show in the past and we’re setting it up to have more energy on the floor. When you’re walking down an aisle, there’s not just static displays, things are going on. We’re recreating the culture. You know, it’s like Broadway. Exciting. A lot to see. A lot going on. We’re trying to replicate that, something that keeps people on the floor, and that’s better for everyone.
What other changes did you make?
We used to do the seminars away from the show but now we’re doing them here. That gives someone attending the show a more efficient use of time. You don’t have to go find a meeting room somewhere else and sit through an entire seminar, you can pop in and out and still experience other exhibits. I always went to the show for 2-3 days, and there was always something going on but there were also dry periods in between. The show now is quicker-paced, more like New York City, where something is always happening; something’s always going on. You can pop in and out. It’s better for the attendees. It accommodates the attendees’ scheduling a little better.
Are there any talks you’re looking forward to?
One of my favorite speakers is Randy Smith. I always go to him. He talks about the occupancy and rate trends for hotels and where they’ve been, where they’re headed. I also like the more consumer-oriented ones. We have a speaker who talks about things like gas prices. Sometimes you think one thing and find out it’s another, like gas prices, a while back, and thinking they lock people in. They’re not going on vacation. Then you learn the price of gas has nothing to do with it. Americans feel they deserve a vacation. That’s why you go to these shows; it validates what you’re thinking or corrects your thinking and gets you back on the right track. That’s a critical thing to do. You can go on the Internet and see all this information. But once you get out there and talk to people, get information directly from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, the Internet loses its punch.
How will the changes in the show make HX more attractive to exhibitors?
Having more of the seminars and Ted talks happening on the floor will keep people up there longer, instead of letting them bounce back and forth. It keeps the attendee closer to the exhibitors and gives exhibitors the opportunity to show off their stuff and talk one-on-one. The longer the people are on the floor, the better it is for the exhibitors. It’s back to the Internet. What can’t be accomplished online is the look and touch and feel. You have to be there and see it, smell it and touch it and taste it, or you don’t know what you’re getting.
What’s the real advantage of the show?
We can do our own research on the Web but subconsciously; we filter it to match what our mindset already is. When you go to a show and are exposed to things, it’s unfiltered. Everything’s right there in front of you. There’s always something that takes you by surprise. Hopefully, you’ll walk away from a show like ours, not with one or two new ideas but 12. I didn’t know that product existed, I didn’t know how it could help me, I didn’t know how to search for it. And it’s right there. Whether it’s a food ingredient, or equipment, you can see it and touch it. There’s been tremendous change in restaurants. You’ve got to go there and see what the cutting edge stuff is. There’s nothing better than seeing it all at one time in one place and getting exposed to it.
Do you think the show can really compete with the Internet, social media, the way people get information today?
You can’t talk to someone on Facebook. The digital revolution has certainly changed the way we do business but it’s still a relationship and knowing people and understanding from an exhibitor’s viewpoint what the consumer wants and from the attendees’ point of view seeing what’s out there, what you’re not exposed to. There’s nothing like seeing it firsthand. You can watch a Broadway show on TV but it ain’t nothing like going!