CEO, Northstar Travel Media
Thomas Kemp, CEO of Northstar Travel Media, talks about how events serve their audiences and clients and have become the largest source of revenue for the company.
Northstar Travel Media is an innovative B2B information and marketing solutions leader that serves all segments of the Global Travel and Meetings Industries. The company offers a complete range of profitable media channels, but its face-to-face event platforms have shown remarkable growth. Would you tell us a little bit about that growth?
When I joined Northstar Travel Media in 2009, 70% of the company’s portfolio was in print, about 10% was digital and about 10% was in subscription information products. The company also produced a couple of events. It was the nadir of the recession, a very tough time in publishing, but we focused on building the company and diversifying so as not to be as dependent on print, and we invested significantly in digital media and face-to-face events. Since that time, through organic launches of events in our existing market segments as well as through acquisitions, face-to-face events have become the largest segment of our business. Last year we produced 77 events in 12 different countries.
Northstar Travel Media is now the leading B2B media services, event, business intelligence and technology solutions provider for the Global Travel Industry. Our audiences include executives and buyers in leisure, business and corporate travel, the meetings and incentives market, travel technology and the hotel and hospitality investment industry. We connect them with travel suppliers – destinations, hotels, resorts, car rentals, cruises, airlines and financial services – all the suppliers that serve the travel industry. We want to be as deeply imbedded as we can be on all segments of the industry through marketing services, digital media, face-to-face events, market research, technology solutions, marketing services and print. Print continues to be an important part of how we serve our audiences, but now our conferences and our Hosted Buyer Events are our largest revenue producers.
Are Hosted Buyer Events the most profitable events for you?
Generally, our larger events are more profitable just because of the economies of scale. Our top 10 events last year produced about $24 million in revenue with direct margins in excess of 60%. The two largest, most profitable events are not Hosted Buyer Events. The Americas Lodging Investment Summit (ALIS), which is the largest conference in the world for the hotel investment industry, is over $7 million with 60% of revenues coming from registrations and 40% from sponsorships. Our Phocuswright conference, which is the leading conference on travel technology in the world that brings attendees from companies like Expedia, Trip Advisor and Orbit together with investors, brings in comparable revenue and is also very profitable.
These conferences feature very high-quality speakers, rich content, breakout sessions, and networking events. CEOs from the hotel industry, Wall Street financial institutions, private equity firms, and venture capital companies attend, and a lot of deals are done at the events.
Another nice thing about these events and the industry in general is that, in virtually all cases, you get 100% of the revenues in advance of the show. So, the cashflow characteristics are very attractive.
Are you finding new ways to create revenue from events?
Yes, in addition to sponsorship and registration revenue we have sponsored content presentations by suppliers who pay extra to be able to make a presentation. And at our Phocuswright – Web in Travel conference in Singapore, early-stage companies that are looking for investment can apply for the opportunity to make a presentation and be judged by a panel of travel technology experts. They must be selected in advance and it’s a very rigorous selection process. After a seven-minute presentation, winners in various categories are awarded a $100,000 investment in their company. Applicants pay us, depending on the size of their company, anywhere from a few thousand dollars up to $15,000 to make a presentation.
What marketing methods have been most effective in incentivizing attendees and sponsors to participate in your events?
An important part of marketing is sending the right message to the right audience. Like most B2B media companies, we use email as our primary method to market our events to attendees. Of course, the more targeted we can be — based on our understanding of our audiences – the better. So, we go back to our centralized audience database for demographic information and to track behavior and level of engagement. We use Salesforce very effectively for our sponsorship and might use different technologies in terms of our marketing stack to identify and market to new prospects, follow up and close those deals.
We also do a lot of telemarketing, particularly to attract buyers for our Hosted Buyer Events. The key to success in these events is the quality of the buyers. We identify prospects based on interactions and engagement and then call for applications. Appropriate buyers are contacted for a telephone interview. We also ask our key sponsors in the markets that we are after for their top customers. We have full time people that work for us that do screening and applications for our hosted buyer events. We’ll also ask for references and check their references almost like a job application.
Can you give us an example of how you segment your audience to ensure that the right messages go to the right people?
Northstar Travel produces an event called Cruise World that runs in different locations around the world — the largest taking place in Ft. Lauderdale each November. For this event we want to make sure that we target buyers who are specifically interested in booked cruises as opposed to land vacations, and who not only book cruises, but who book a lot of cruises. The CEOs from every major cruise line show up and make presentations. We have attendees who pay to attend for educational purposes and to be part of the industry.
And then we have a VIP buyer program, a Hosted Buyer program that attracts 200 to 300 highly qualified buyers of the cruise industry. These are people who book 100 to 200 cruises per year. So, you can imagine how valuable they are to cruise lines. This is the strength of B2B. Instead of trying to reach one individual that may go on one cruise a year as a consumer, we are reaching individuals in a segment of the B2B market who may book hundreds of cruises a year, from low-end to luxury.
So, we provide value by segmenting our audience by travel industry, by type of travel, by amount of travel and by cost of travel. The more information we have about our audience, the better we can target the right people with the right messages at the right times for the right sponsors.
What technology do you use to track behavior?
We use Parse.ly for tracking our online interactions and Omeda for our audience database and for our email marketing.
Do you see event attendees’ expectations of events changing? If so, what is Northstar Travel doing to respond to, or even lead those changing expectations?
You have to motivate someone to leave their office, get on an airplane and go somewhere for a couple of days. It’s more than just bringing buyers and sellers together. You must have a depth of connection with, and understanding of, the nuances and trends associated with their vertical industries. Media companies can leverage their editorial teams’ content generation and their brand offerings to produce events that provide the exceptional educational and networking value that attendees are demanding.
Both attendees and sponsors want to understand the return they will receive for their investment of time and money. We show how participants at Northstar Travel Media Hosted Buyer Events see this return when they make new business deals at the event or shortly afterward.
But event producers must do more. We must entertain, delight, surprise and ensure that everyone has a great experience. Northstar Travel Media is fortunate because the people that go into the travel industry are usually very hospitable, outgoing, positive and upbeat. And they love to travel. But at the same time, when you’re putting together a meeting for meeting planners, you better know what you’re doing. So, we are as careful about offering great venues, great destinations and great entertainment as we are about providing rich content and measurable ROI. Events must have great energy and personality.
What type of entertainment do you provide to surprise and delight attendees?
Oftentimes we’ll take a group offsite and visit an interesting local venue for a party. We try to do different things that people don’t expect. At one of our Sports Travel Market events in Louisville, attendees enjoyed an evening party on the infield at Churchill Downs. There was a band and the warm Autumn night was wonderful. We also had a bourbon tasting. Taking advantage of the unique character of the location you are in can be very entertaining. People really remember these types of experiences and it motivates them to get up out of their offices, get on an airplane and come to an event. It’s not just work, it’s an experience.
Thank you, Tom!