BlueStar’s VARTECH 2012 Event Takes to the High Seas

October 24, 2012

On Oct. 5, BlueStar’s VARTECH 2012, a trade show for vendors and resellers of POS, ADC, Mobility, RFID, Digital Signage and Security technologies, took to the seas.


This marked the first time the show took place aboard the Carnival Imagination, a four-day cruise to the Bahamas.


Having their show aboard a cruise ship has been a dream of Mark Fraker’s, vice president of marketing, BlueStar, for a long time.


For the past several years, he’s been proposing that idea to Blue Star CEO Steve Cuntz, and each year, Cuntz said there was no way they are having their show on a ship.


This year, Fraker tried a different tactic. In the spirit of “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission” he booked the ship, put down a deposit and announced the new venue.


How did it turn out? Fraker reports attendance for this year’s show was up, with about 900 attendees versus 700 the previous year.


Their exhibitor participation stayed about the same. Although Fraker did mention that some companies’ policies did not allow employees to attend an event on a cruise ship, those were few and far between.


Fraker said some of the exhibitors were wary of the new venue and how it might affect them. To ease their concerns, sponsor packets were loaded with detailed information on the boat, including layouts for the event. They also conducted about five different webinars where their exhibitors could get all their questions answered.


Holding your trade show on a boat does present several challenges. Normally, you have several days to set up. On a ship, you only have a few hours.


BlueStar worked closely with Carnival to manage not just the load in of BlueStar’s 50,000 pounds of equipment, but also the exhibitors’ equipment and all the passengers. VARTECH was the largest convention ever held on Carnival’s ship.


As you can imagine, a show in this market is very tech heavy and reliable Internet access was important. Carnival installed their largest pipe to the Internet for this show. 


BlueStar also developed their own mobile app for the event, which ran on Android and Apple platforms, to help ease the load on the Internet.


Attendees could access the agenda, showguide, layouts and all presentations, including PowerPoint slides from their mobile devices on the standalone app.


Stations were positioned in the embarkation points, where VARTECH staff encouraged all attendees to download the app before getting on board the ship.


Another challenge centered on meeting space. Carnival’s Imagination was built for entertainment, not large conferences, so Fraker and his team had to get creative.


Some sessions were held on the deck using a giant inflatable screen to view the presentations. A nursery was turned into a video studio, where attendees could create their own promotional videos for their company Web sites. During the day, bars and lounges were turned into session rooms.


In addition, VARTECH turned one of the ship’s dining rooms into the exhibit floor. Fraker said that presented a more difficult challenge, since on a ship, everything is bolted down - including the dining tables. Exhibitors adapted to the space and used pull-up displays.


So how did it go? When the boat docked in Nassau, Bahamas, for an optional land excursion, about 450 people never left the boat, preferring to stay onboard with the other attendees and sponsors/exhibitors. 


Fraker said, “in past years, event surveys would trickle in over the weeks after the event. This year, attendees responded much faster, and so far, responses to the questions asked are in the 90th percentile (for satisfaction).”

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