Mel Bagnall: Face-to-face versus virtual is no contest
With just weeks, to go the anticipation surrounding ICAST is almost tangible.
The show returns to in-person format after being forced online last year. And expectation has been heightened as a result of it effectively talking a year out. While the efforts of the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) to produce the show in online format last year were commendable, face-to-face versus virtual is a no-contest.
The response from the trade has been suitably enthusiastic. Numbers expected by the ASA are in the region of 1,300 buyers, 500 independent retailers and 200 wholesalers. More than 40 US states and 14 countries are likely to be represented. So while it would be naïve to think the show will not be affected in some way by the lingering uncertainties of COVID and any travel restrictions that might still be in place, ICAST will still have more people, more brands, more product and more business being done at one time than anywhere else in the world.
Timing is also on ICAST’s side. The ravages of the pandemic have ironically put recreational fishing in a good place. Everyone I talk to in the industry – and that’s a lot – is reaping the benefits of fishing being one of the few outdoor pursuits to have remained accessible during the pandemic. Even the response to some phone calls and emails are delayed because people are simply too busy fulfilling orders and attending to customers. Who can blame them?
So the event could hardly have come at a better time. While all the many ICASTs I have been to have had a great atmosphere, I expect to see a special camaraderie in the aisles this year, generated by the absence of a show in 2020 and the lost opportunity to meet old friends, colleagues and customers. As Carey Graves, President of Daiwa Corporation, put it: “With everything we have been through over the past year, there is no better opportunity to reconnect with our customers, friends and representatives from the entire sportfishing industry.” And in the words of ASA President Glenn Hughes, “it is in these environments that we build relationships, share ideas and work together to improve the industry.”
Visitors to the show will have their own agendas. Most will want to see first hand the thousands of new products on display, to see how hi-tech continues to shape product development and to meet with new exhibitors. Many will also take advantage of ICAST’s educational and informative seminars, covering topics like customer engagement and retention, doing better business online, the how to’s of content creation and excise tax obligations. And let’s not forget the happy hours, a chance to relax and enjoy the company of our colleagues after a long day on the show floor.
For me, there will be a special focus this year. I am writing this as Angling International puts together its first ever ‘green’ issue, a celebration of the conservation and sustainability efforts being made by our industry. I will be curious to see how many and which companies at ICAST are addressing those critical issues. There is no better opportunity than the world’s biggest trade show – with the huge media interest it attracts – to demonstrate the real steps it is taking in its use of materials, eco-friendly packaging, species protection and subsidisation of conservation bodies to protect the environment on which it relies.
You can read about many of the commendable activities within the industry on this site and in the July issue of Angling International. Let’s hope we will see real evidence of that in Orlando come July 20th.
Mel Bagnall is Consultant Editor at Angling International