About a year ago when I first heard that VARTECH, BlueStar’s annual conference, would be held on a cruise ship, I thought it was a ruse. There couldn’t possibly be a floating trade show, right? You couldn’t actually coordinate nearly 1,400 attendees throughout North and Latin America, along with exhibitor hardware, and get everything and everyone onto one boat, right?
I’m writing this article from my room on the port side (or is it the starboard side?) of the 855-foot long, 70,000-ton Carnival Imagination somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean between Miami and Nassau, The Bahamas.
I’m struggling to accurately capture the essence of this obviously atypical trade show. We’ll post video of the show floor soon on www.BSMinfo.com/InsideBlueStar; in the meantime, here are some observations that might articulate what I’m seeing:
- Attire for the event is casual. I’ve seen only one attendee wearing a tie, and that was offset by the reseller wearing damp swimtrunks on the show floor while checking out data collection hardware. And I’ve seen more flip flops here than bar code scanners.
- And should I say show floors? Because there isn’t a giant rectangular room on Imagination, Code Zone is split between a long stretch of deck nine and the Spirit Dining Room on deck eight. Only one flight of stairs separates the two show areas.
- Many exhibitors on deck nine are located across from a fully stocked bar. For them it’s like a dream come true.
- My feet don’t hurt like they would after a full day at a trade show. I think it’s because the show area is so compact. To fit in the dining room, some exhibitors have booths that appear to be just 6-by-6. You don’t have to take too many steps to cover all the booths.
- The dress code may be casual, but the attendees are intense and engaged. I think a big reason for that is because the audience is captive from two perspectives. Obviously, they can’t leave the boat. But maybe a bigger coup for the exhibitors is that internet service to your phone incurs international rates which nobody here is willing to pay. (My Verizon global data plan is $20.48/MB.) I haven’t seen anybody off to the side fiddling with email or fielding a call from the office. Everyone here is focusing their attention on the products and networking with colleagues.
- You know how sometimes speeches at events are interrupted by a late attendee closing the door too loudly? I was distracted by some noise during the Saturday morning keynote address, but it was because Imagination was docking in the Bahamas. I wish I knew that at the time. I thought we were making international news.
- This will be my first and likely only trade show where I spend the afternoon on a show floor, change in my room, head upstairs for a couple trips on the water slide, and then have dinner with several industry friends. Awesome!
- As far as I know, nobody forgot anything and no exhibitors missed the boat. However, keep in mind that I write this prior to the Saturday evening curfew time of 3 AM. If you don’t return to the boat by that time, you’re stranded in Nassau. (Editor’s Note: A BlueStar executive said that no VARTECH attendees were stranded in The Bahamas. The ID card system on Imagination helped the staff determine that everyone returned safely.)
BlueStar CEO/President Steve Cuntz isn’t claiming credit for what has proven to be a well-received idea of attempting a floating trade show. “When Mark Fraker (BlueStar VP of Marketing) suggested we have VARTECH on cruise ship, I said, ‘We will never, ever have VARTECH on a cruise ship,” a beaming Cuntz told me. “And here we are today.”
For more information on BlueStar and VARTECH 2012, go to www.BSMinfo.com/InsideBlueStar