By Mary Tucker, Sr. PR/Communications Manager
The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) has achieved great success with launching and growing two international business aviation events on two continents. EBACE, the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition, was launched in April 2001 by the NBAA in partnership with the European Business Aviation Association. The three-day business aviation event premiered with 3,620 attendees and 190 exhibitors occupying 470 3m x 3m spaces and 30 aircraft on the outdoor aircraft display on Geneva International Airport. Twenty years later, EBACE has become the premier business aviation event in Europe and the second largest business aviation event in the world, second only to NBAA’s annual convention, held in the U.S. each October.
ABACE, the Asian Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition, first took place in 2012, also as a three-day event.The first show featured 6,403 attendees, 156 exhibitors in 238 spaces, nine chalets and 31 aircraft on display. Nine years later, NBAA in partnership with the Shanghai Airport Authority, now produces the largest and most important business aviation event in Asia each April. The show now includes 160 exhibitors, 17 chalet units and 35 aircraft on display. And, attendance has grown from 6,403 to over 9,000.
NBAA’s achievements earned it the IAEE International Excellence Award last year, for which it was recognized this past December during virtual Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition (watch the awards presentation and Senior Vice President of Events Chris Strong’s acceptance speech here).
Here, Chris shares with IAEE what NBAA has learned through its the process of organizing international events and how it maximizes these learnings to maintain a successful show that continues to grow and advance its presence in the various regions it is held.
NBAA launched EBACE two decades ago. What have been the greatest advances, from show management’s perspective, that you have experienced in that time?
Chris: This is not necessarily unique to our shows, but we have seen a notable sophistication in the expectations from our exhibitors. They have pushed us to move beyond simply bringing the industry together towards pressing news and product information outside the doors of our event, and helping them extend more deeply into the marketplace past just three days in May. They have also lifted the expectations surrounding the integration of show technology and making a difference in areas such as sustainability.
EBACE is the second largest show for its industry in the world, only behind its sister show in the U.S. What are the most noticeable differences between promoting a show to the European market versus the U.S. market for your industry?
Chris: The obvious differences are time and language. Engaging with exhibitors and attendees on their schedules, instead of ours is work, particularly as we promote events like the “Know before you go” webinars. The English language is relatively universal to aviation and commonly spoken in Europe. That said, the nuance of European English is important and we do spend time and energy getting that correct. We also promote in German in Germany and French in France, etc. as we have seen that we catch additional eyes in the native language. We are fortunate to be able to partner with the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) for the show, which provides a tremendous home field advantage.
How did NBAA know the time was right to enter the Asian market? And, what are some of the biggest differences between this market versus the European and U.S. markets? What are the similarities?
Chris: Our decision to enter China was market based. We spent an enormous amount of time learning about the marketing needs of our airframe manufacturers and other large suppliers. The active general aviation marketplace in China is small and comparatively new relative to the U.S., but the geographic size and wealth of the nation suggest that private aviation will serve a very important role in the not too distant future.
NBAA works closely with the Chinese government to produce ABACE. What strategies can you recommend for working with government entities to successfully collaborate on an event as extensive as ABACE?
Chris: We have two strategies that overlap. The first is being physically present in China as often as is reasonable. Beyond our contractors and employees in the country, before the COVID era, we had a U.S. team that would travel there every two months. We also worked to be engaged with the government entities at many levels. This way, we both learn and build advocates so that when problems do occur we can find potential solutions throughout the organizational chart. We also are less exposed if there is turnover in particular roles.
From your experience, what are the most essential points of consideration show organizers should take into account when breaking into a new international market?
Chris: I am not sure I am breaking any new ground here. First, understand if there is a need in the marketplace your show can serve and have your exhibitor allies lined up as soon as possible. Second, find great partners both for the show infrastructure needs, marketing, etc., but to also help you navigate the language and cultural barriers. And finally, be there. Get feet on the ground, get your team engaged in the space and the culture early so they are comfortable and knowledgeable well in advance of the events.