When the world's largest helicopter trade show and exposition comes to Orlando next March it should be a smooth ride, according to Karen Gebhart, VP business development for the Alexandria, VA.-based Helicopter Association International. Twenty thousand exhibitors and attendees- with 50 or so exhibiting helicopters flying in, will land at the Orange County Convention Center March 2-5 for their largest event of the year.
For the hundreds of exhibitors--helicopter manufacturers, distributors of products and services , among others--this show is a must, says Gebhart, because sales at this show can make up about 50% of the exhibitor's annual revenue. It's just as important for HAI: This show accounts for over 70% of the association's annual revenue.
The mission of the show is to engage qualified buyers looking for the latest product developments; meet existing customers through face-to-face interactions, develop strategic partnerships with prospective buyers looking for new products that will meet their needs, provide hands-on demonstrations of new product offerings, broaden brand awareness within the international helicopter community, achieve lasting results from exposure within the industry before, during and after the show and close sales.
Attendees come to network with industry professionals through HAI HELI-EXPO special events and find the latest product innovations that will meet the needs of their companies, stay current with changes within the industry through meetings and forums and further their careers through professional education courses.
It's such an important show that two of the largest exhibitors have already had site visits set up by Visit Orlando to decide where they will hold their own customer events.
For Gebhart, Orlando works for the HAI show for a number of reasons: "The show is in the south in March so we're guaranteed good weather, which is important when people are flying in. We don't have to worry about icing or snow; we have large exhibitors that can look at Disney, Universal and SeaWorld for their events, some of which number 1000 guests, which represent great opportunities for our exhibitors and many of the hotels are within walking distance." At HAI HELI-EXPO in 2010 in Orlando two of their largest exhibitors used Hollywood Studios, where they flew in a helicopter and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for a private event. While Gebhart adds that some attendees might come in earlier or stay later with their families, she says, the show is all business. But, so far, she says, "All our numbers are running ahead of last year; room bookings, exhibitors' space and exhibit applications are ahead," she says.
Gebhart adds that working with Visit Orlando has also saved her hours of planning. "Visit Orlando has been fantastic showcasing all the destination has to offer. They've been the ombudsman between me and Visit Orlando members. This year I focused on our top exhibitors looking for special venues for their own customers, and after we asked, ‘what are you looking to do?' Dorothy (Kelley, CMP Destination Meeting Services Sr. Manager, Visit Orlando) put together two separate site visits with different agendas for these companies. They looked at hotel properties, meeting space for their own meetings during the show, downtown venues, the convention center, theme parks and also had meals at different restaurants," Gebhart says. Visit Orlando also set up tours of five golf courses for the HAI charity tournament. Not only has Visit Orlando been accommodating to the group, says Gebhart, "Orlando as a destination is very customer service oriented, very creative and pro-active."
Not all convention centers can handle HAI HELI-EXPO-not many have a place to land helicopters adjacent to the convention center. And size does matter when it comes to this show, but it's also about the shape of the exhibit space, says Gebhart. "It's very easy because of the floor layout. It's one big box that will accommodate our jumbo exhibits and helicopters." Two days before the event-with the help of the local FAA-- a convoy of helicopters will land about every 15 minutes on the helipad beside the convention center's North Hall. A Kissimmee-based aircraft towing company will get the helicopters on the show floor-Hueys from Vietnam to air medical helicopters to multi-million dollar helicopters that conduct critical mission work that may be deployed for firefighting, police, search and rescue, security and surveillance, manufacturing, working on power lines, or reaching places that no roads will go. When the show closes at dusk the sky will be filled with helicopters heading back home. After the event the floor sales tally may reach upwards to $3 billion in sales, Gebhart says. Now that's ROI.