No Booth Required

Going to trade shows can be exhausting and expensive. First, there’s the travel: the cost and energy it takes to book a flight, rent a car, and find a hotel room — even for just one person. Then, there’s the time spent at the actual show meeting and greeting, and walking back and forth across the miles of convention space. After a while, you start to wonder if there’s an alternative.

There is: a virtual trade show. Virtual trade shows on the Internet offer attendees a simulated show environment with conferences, booths, and additional information. Users can actually view virtual visitors wandering around the show and checking out an exhibitor’s booth.

Although virtual trade shows operate like the real thing, experts agree that it will likely never replace the physical show. Robert Rosenbloom, vice president of business development for iCongo, a Boston-based virtual trade show provider, says that certain industries and products lend themselves to the application better than others. “If you have a trade show for perfume, a virtual show is not the ideal environment. Technology systems have powered a number of different virtual shows.” He says, “While there will always be a need or market for physical trade shows and events, the future of the meeting, trade show, and conference industry is moving more and more online.”

While the virtual trade show might never replace its predecessor, it does have numerous benefits. It is far cheaper to sponsor or exhibit at a virtual trade show. The price of creating an entire show is around $50,000, which could be the cost of a single booth at a regular show. Most virtual trade shows are free for attendees, and they are less time consuming, as most exhibitors need to have only one employee man the computer for a day or two. Experts agree that the most important advantage of the technology is that it allows for much more accurate reporting of potential leads. Instead of going home with a briefcase full of business cards, exhibitors get a succinct list of interested parties.

Companies like specialize in trade shows for supplier diversity, offering multiple supplier diversity fairs each year. The firm’s co-founder and COO, Ramesh Sambasivan, hopes that online trade shows will lead to a sort of Internet matchmaking program for diverse suppliers across the world. “The day will come when business matchmaking online will become as commonplace as matchmaking for people’s personal lives,” says Sambasivan.

Last year, Unisfair created a global M.B.A. trade show for The Economist magazine that attracted schools from the U.S., England, Switzerland, and other countries and hosted booths for potential students. Gonen Ziv, the senior vice president of sales and operations for Unisfair, says, “That show attracted 4,000 people from 76 different countries. It’s an event you can’t do physically.”

Ziv claims that Unisfair has 90% recurring attendance, and that 80% of the attendees recommend the shows to others. It’s a statistic that could be true of the entire industry. Production Technologies of Tracy; California; and Laverne, Tennessee first started exhibiting