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ASA President: ‘ICAST is an opportunity to gain market share’


“People want to get back to business,” says ASA President Glenn Hughes on the eve of ICAST’s return to a physical show in Florida. Everything, he says, is in place for a safe and vibrant event in July.

How important are in-person events for the industry? Face-to-face communication, networking across the industry and the value of actually seeing and trying products in real time cannot be over emphasised. In these settings, we build relationships, share ideas and work together for the betterment of our industry. ICAST is the largest fishing tackle trade show in the world. If you are in the fishing tackle business you should be there. If not, you will be a full step behind your colleagues who came, interacted, shared, sold, promoted and networked for that entire week.

What have organisers learned from the first in-person events during the pandemic? What works and what doesn’t? The Orange County Convention Center in Orlando has already held more than 60 events since last summer. It knows the safety precautions and is following all protocols to provide a safe and healthy environment. The exhibitors showing up are having success, meeting with their buyers and media, and discussing their products and the future. Events will improve when people step out of the comfort of their home offices and get back to doing business face-to-face.

What lessons have been learned about shows in the past year? Companies can live without trade shows for a year, maybe two, because their business is just so good right now. But Zoom or Teams calls do not replace relationship-building through face-to face interaction or seeing and touching the breadth of products across a show floor, or allow for side conversations at the happy hour, bar or restaurant. Attending an in-person show is for those who want to come together, who see their businesses as bigger than themselves and who see shows as opportunity to gain market share.

How have the successes of virtual events changed the business landscape? The success of virtual shows is relative. It is in the eye of the beholder because, like anything else, you get out of it what you put in. Just like at a boat or fishing show – it’s no good just putting up a booth and waiting for people to come by. You need to promote, invest in people and display and have programmes and product ready. The virtual or hybrid elements can enhance and bring more visibility to an in-person show, but not fully replace them. Virtual shows may not cost as much and may have more reach, but the value does not replace in-person events. Companies have become savvy with their Zoom meetings, but it inhibits the personal touch of products, relationship-building and the exchange of ideas.

In what ways can in-person events continue to grow? We need to always be asking the questions that address how we can provide more value and more ROI to exhibitors and attendees. We must ask them what they want and do our best to provide what they can’t get anywhere else. ICAST offers a look at more new fishing products than anywhere else in the world. It offers the opportunity to meet and ask questions of the most important people in the fishing business. In the future, ICAST will offer more learning opportunities to improve business and ensure the growth of the industry. Maybe most importantly, ICAST offers a community you can’t reach anywhere else in the world.

How will organisers enforce safety requirements and otherwise ensure a safe and secure show? If you aren’t comfortable being around people, don’t come. If you are vaccinated, have already had COVID and like to be around others who enjoy talking about fishing, then come. We are going to follow the suggestions of the city of Orlando and the Orange County Convention Center at the time and location of our event in July. We’ll provide proper signage and spacing, but if you haven’t learned about proper hand washing, social distancing or mask wearing, maybe you shouldn’t be there.

Will social events still be encouraged? Will most interaction be limited to the show floor and not after-hours events? Florida is open and people can do what they want with their free time. Just as we don’t like others telling us what we can and cannot do, we don’t plan on doing that to them. People can be responsible for themselves. Those who want to get the vaccine are getting the vaccine. Those who want to wear masks will wear them. Those who want to travel will travel.

What about show conferences, press events and presentations? Will they continue? Yes, of course. This is a moment in time. Some things may change forever, but people want to get back to business. I give the Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach shows a lot of credit for making the best of the situation and putting on quality events with one arm tied behind their backs. If we can only have 50% capacity in meeting spaces, so be it. But we will meet, and those who participate will be glad we did.

What are some of the requirements and requests from exhibitors? Most are just happy that we are having a show and looking forward to getting back together. Some ask if they have to wear a mask. Most don’t ask anything and just want to know what the rules are. The main reason that those from the US aren’t coming is not because of COVID. They aren’t coming because their business is so good that they can’t service or provide enough product to their current customers.

How much communication do you have with health and government agencies? The ASA and ICAST teams are working very closely with Visit Orlando and the Orange County Convention Center. The centre’s leadership and staff regularly update its health and safety protocols. It has a complete and thorough understanding of the concerns, needs and efforts needed to properly protect its audience and provide the necessary information for a safe and successful event. It has rules and we will follow them. And we have ambassadors who will be walking the show. They will be encouraging everybody to keep their mask on. That will continue as long as there’s a mask mandate.

Any other thoughts? If there is/was a positive outcome regarding COVID-19, it’s that more Americans are fishing than ever before. The new and returning anglers took advantage of more time near their home with friends and family to enjoy the fishing experience. Shows give us the opportunity to share successes, exchange experiences and educate the industry on how to retain and build on their relationships with new and returning anglers. ICAST allows us to celebrate the past year and set the course for the future by continuing to encourage people to fish, thereby growing our market and our businesses. Ÿ

• Glenn Hughes’s comments appeared first at Soundings Trade Only

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