Friday, January 17, 2003

Sports show capitalizes on Internet


Bigger splash achieved

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

You might say that search engines run a close second to inboard/outboard motors at this week's Cincinnati Travel, Sports and Boat Show.

While IOs, as they are termed, are the hot power sources for watercraft, it has been Internet search engines that have gotten them to the convention center floor.

IF YOU GO
• What: Cincinnati Travel, Sports and Boat Show, consisting of more than 600 displays and exhibits.
• When: Noon to 9:30 p.m. today, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: Cincinnati Convention Center, Fifth and Elm streets.
Specialty show: Today through Sunday the Cincinnati Hunting & Fishing Show occupies the convention center's second floor. Travel exhibits and information are on the third floor.
• Admission: $8 for adults, $3 for 13 and under.
• Information: www.hartproductions.com or 281-0022.
"Like everyone else, 9-11 impacted us to a reasonable extent; we lost a lot of travel industry exhibits," Chip Hart, the show's manager, said. "We managed to build it back, and more, creating a huge Internet presence as a tool to market the show to these industries."

Mr. Hart said Hart Productions was a bit fearful of taking to the Web but knew it was an efficient way to reach potential exhibitors as well as visitors. And with online shopping so popular, convention center shows needed a Web showcase.

"We have 20 domain names registered with all search engines," Mr. Hart said. "Somebody looking for shows that bear even a remote relationship, ours will come up on the first page. We're open to the whole wide world.

"We used to go buy magazines off the rack and look for ads to build our vendor mailing list. We've cut our costs 75 to 80 percent through the Web, and by bringing our capabilities in-house, I can control it."

Said Vicki Diebold, Hart Productions' Webmaster: "We don't print brochures anymore; everything's on the Web. Our number one target market is vendors and exhibitors, but we also target the general public. We used to send all our contracts; now we probably e-mail them all."

Mr. Hart thinks his aggressive Internet strategy has worked.

"All our spaces are sold for this show; it's a complete sellout. That's the first time we've ever done that for this show."

While official attendance figures won't be available until well after the expo's conclusion because of advance ticket sales through Kroger, Mr. Hart said his box office sales are up 8 percent so far. Attendance averages between 65,000 and 72,000 yearly, Hart Productions officials say.

It's not just Internet technology that lends sizzle to the show. From global positioning satellite equipment on pleasure boats to new "breathable" fabrics for waterproof protective clothing, there's widespread evidence that science is helping recreation become edgier but safer and more convenient.

"Technology has made tents easier to set up," said Dan Williams of Great Outdoors, an exhibitor based in Logansport, Tenn.

That company, like most at the show, sports its Web site on its booth banner.

"We've been on the Web for six or seven years," said Jim Kehoe, who with his wife, Ann, operates Outpost Lodge in northern Ontario. "We use it more as a support tool."

"We brought a PowerPoint presentation along for the first time," said neighboring booth occupant Jeanne Theriault, who is at the show to market Air Ivanhoe, her Ontario lodge and air service.

Both resorts say the Internet and satellite phones have streamlined business communications and made their destinations seem more accessible to potential visitors.

Meanwhile, solar power was driving most of the show attendees, who are dreaming of sunny days ahead.

"We're window shopping and dreaming," Jodi Sansone of Burlington said, making her annual visit to the event with her husband and friends.

"I'm here to educate myself; I'm about a year away from buying," said Jim Stagge of Bridgetown, whose wife and four children were trying a ski boat on for size. "Price is a big factor. I'll price around with several dealers."

E-mail: jcallison@cinci.rr.com.




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