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What to expect as media attending IPW

IPW is, and has been for many years, the biggest event on my travel calendar.

IPW is the big travel trade show for the United States of America and is held in different cities each year with around 6,000 travel operators, agents and media all rushing around chilly air conditioned conference halls walking off more steps in a day than a week of physical activity at home. I have made so many great connections, worked with awesome people and become friends with many of them over the years.

IPW stands for International Pow Wow (formerly called Pow Wow, but you’ll end up paying the Swear Jar if you call it that any more – kidding!) and has been running since 1969. It brings in nearly $5 billion in new business in just three days.

I first attended in 2005 when it was last held in New York and it nearly blew my mind. Fortunately I had a wonderful colleague who held my hand through all the required events, evening parties and copious amounts of shmoozing (thanks Ange!) and over the years I have held the odd hand of newbies who have been invited by their respective US Travel committees in their countries to attend this great annual event.

So here’s a full run down on what to expect from a media perspective at IPW because you need your game face on to hit the ground running!

Megan with face painted

Face painting at opening night in New Orleans! (My husband said I looked like Mike Tyson. Hmmmm)

What exactly happens at IPW?
This annual travel trade show is primarily a speed dating event between US suppliers (like the sales teams from states and cities, airlines, attractions, national parks, hotels and transportation companies) and international wholesale buyers like Flight Centre, House of Travel, AMEX Travel and all the global big guns from as many as 70 countries, as well as many more smaller operators.

They all make appointments with each other pre-IPW online and a bell rings between appointments and the buyers have about 3 minutes to find the correct booth (situated by State) and sit down t0 meet and discuss contracts for follow up in 15 minutes flat. But there is also a separate media program.

What is the IPW media program?
This is best part of IPW if you ask me! The Media program is a thoroughly thought out few days to showcase the host city for those of us invited to cover the event and get some stories.

There is a Press Brunch on Sunday, the first official day, then an afternoon of tours which you have pre-selected.

Media Marketplace is held on Monday and this is where you can build relationships with the PR reps from the cities, states and other companies who pay to have a table and meet the media. Appointments are made online pre IPW and you need to send a request and if the person accepts, you slowly fill out your calendar for up to 20, 10-minute speed dating appointments (you also have 5 minutes to dash between them). You need to have your “elevator pitch” ready as the time goes quickly!

After the Marketplace Monday ends (about 4.30pm) there is a cocktail soiree and the annual Travel Writer Awards are handed out. (More below on that)

There are press conferences to attend on the Tuesday and Wednesday (and they typically start early – like 8.30am early!)

From Tuesday media are allowed access to the trade show – until then we are in our own designated floor.

IPW Media marketplace

Media Marketplace in full swing!

Where do you stay for IPW?
Media are the lucky ones – we get our hotel paid for by US Travel who work alongside Brand USA, the private/public partnership that markets the United States to the world (and the organisation that your ESTA visa fee goes to). You will be housed with your country delegation, although as the event is so huge and your buyers will be so busy, you hardly see each other!

Registration/signing in
As people arrive in dribs and drabs over a couple of days, the Media Centre is set up at the convention centre and all IPW buses come and go from there to the hotels. You need to make your way there from your hotel (often it’s within walking distance) and register and get your official IPW credentials and a bag of goodies including the timetable and some info from various destinations who have been selected to give us stuff.

If you don’t have time to get there on the Saturday (IPW officially starts on Sunday) you can head along on Sunday morning, check in, get your ID, then go back outside to catch your bus to the first official event for media – the Press Brunch.

How do you get around during the week?
The host city spends the best part of a year putting the logistics together and that includes arranging buses and bus routes for the hotels and a gazillion volunteers in branded shirts so you barely need to do your own thinking! Arriving at the airport, you’ll find the official IPW desk with volunteers directing you to a bus to take you to your hotel. There may be several countries hosted at the same hotel (us Kiwis are usually with the Aussies which is always a lot of fun!)

On business days the buses will meet at a designated part of the hotel (not the main lobby usually!) and depart about every 15 minutes to the convention centre. From there you’ll meet other buses to take you to the events, particularly the Press Brunch.

What to wear to IPW
Business clothes. Smart. No jeans for guys. You’ll see a lot of people in jackets with pants and skirts. Ties are not necessary though. But most importantly wear shoes that you can walk and walk and walk in!

It’s also usually freezing even when IPW is held in hot destinations like Las Vegas. They love their air conditioning! Bring a jacket or cardigan.

On saying that, the Press Brunch is a more casually dressed affair as it’s usually held outside or at a stadium and then immediately following the food and entertainment you’ll head off for the afternoon on whichever media tour you have selected. This may be hiking or boating or shopping or drinking (yes they actually offer brewery tours!) so it’s fine to wear appropriate clothes for such activities 😉

What to bring to IPW
> Bring loads of business cards. You’ll meet tons of new people both in the Media Marketplace event and also just schmoozing over lunch and at the evening events.

> Bring copies of your publication or an iPad to show them who you write for at Media Marketplace.

> Bring good walking shoes (making the point again!). I don’t mean hiking boots, but you will be doing a heck of a lot of walking around the convention centre so you don’t want to be in heels. Save those for the evenings.

> Bring your A-game! Be ready to mix and mingle. Meet new people. Introduce your colleagues to others. IPW is a really fun and happy event, so expect to enjoy it.

What are compulsory events?
For media, IPW officially kicks off on the Sunday morning at the Press Brunch, followed by the tour of your choice that you will have selected online some months earlier (and probably forgotten but they have your name down!)

Monday Media Marketplace is compulsory. Tuesday and Wednesday press conferences are meant to be compulsory, but honestly if you need to get a story about a local experience or file a story, I’ve been known to skip one or two.

What’s not compulsory?
Lunches are provided and you’ll never find anyone you know, so sometimes you might like to make your own arrangements.

The evening events are not compulsory but you’d be mad to miss them!

What are evening events like?
Flippin awesome!

The opening night event is Sunday so you’ll have just enough time to get back from your afternoon media trip (following the press brunch) to get changed into your glad rags and grab the bus from your hotel and be taken to the venue. It’ll be spectacular.

Monday night is usually a dine-around-town kind of set up. You’ll possibly get vouchers and then choose where you’d like to eat. If you are travelling with a friend/partner/spouse (more on this below) they can join you this night, you’ll just need to pay for them.

Tuesday is usually reserved for private events, which as media, you’ll probably have several invitations to that will be emailed in advance for you to accept or decline. Destinations host a few hundred people in venues around town but you’ll need to make your own way to and from them (Uber!)

Wednesday night is the closing event and is just as huge as the opening night. Think Dion Warwick or KC and Sunshine Band performing at Disneyland or some such place.

IPW evening event at Nationals Park DC

One of the evening events held at Nationals Park in Washington DC – yes I got to sit in the dug out!

What meals are included?
The first thing to note is breakfast is not included at your hotel. Of course you can have brekkie there, you’ll just need to pay for it. The media centre has some food like muffins and bagels and filter coffee, but get in quick as with 500 journos it doesn’t last long. I usually just pick up a coffee either at the Convention Centre or en route and that does me.

The Press Brunch on Sunday is always a banquet so bring a big appetite for that.

Lunches are included Monday to Wednesday with 6,000 of your colleagues and live entertainment – like the time some of the Blue Man Group performed (below).

Evening events always include food. The opening night (Sunday) will be an extravaganza at some great venue. The years IPW has been held in Orlando and Anaheim have seen us all rock up for a private night at Disneyworld/land!

Blue Man Group performing on stage over lunch

Blue Man Group performing on stage over lunch

Finding a story at IPW
We all know there’s so many different objectives for us as media folk. Some are trade reporters who are looking for news, breaking stories, stats and upcoming developments. Some write for dailies and need to fill column inches or write a feature about the host city. Some are freelancers who will pitch a story to an editor when they get home – or maybe already have and now need to fulfil that pitch. And some of us are bloggers (although not many!) who are looking for evergreen content that will build with great SEO over a few weeks and months.

Trade rags will get lots of tidbits from the Press Brunch as there are presentations to launch IPW about the host city and some of the latest stats from US Travel. They’ll also be able to fill their notebooks from the daily press conferences on the Tuesday and Wednesday.

Those of us looking for feature stories and blog posts should take advantage of the press tours offered for free on Saturday (if you arrive early enough) and Sunday afternoon after the press brunch. About five or six months out from IPW you’ll get an email announcing the press tours. It’s on a first-come first-served basis so read through them as soon as you get them and choose the one that you think will give you the best story angle.

Travel Writer Awards
Yours truly has been lucky enough to hit the stage twice and receive a certificate for the wall and a generous $1000 credit card thanks to media sponsor CityPass.

There are three categories each with a $1000 prize. The first is a story about the host city. The second is a story about another US destination. The third is for best travel trade story. All stories must have been published within the previous 12 months.

What’s in the Media Room?
You’ll need to wear your credentials at all times to get into the media room and press conferences and onto the trade show floor. There is security everywhere making sure you’re not some shyster trying to sneak in!

The media room is a huge open space with tables and a few computers (for the old-timers who don’t have laptops!) There is a Wifi code for free access but I’ve often found it too slow so as my roaming data plan is very good (I basically get my full almost unlimited data from home when travelling for $5 per day) I just hot spot off my phone and use my laptop to write up my notes, download photos, start writing blog posts, keep on top of my admin, etc.

When you first register at the media centre and get your credentials you’ll get a shoulder bag (a cool computer bag usually) filled with stuff and depending on whether you are heading back to your hotel or off out to an event, you can use one of the provided cubby holes. Get in quick with your business card and pin it onto one then you can leave your stuff there. It’s very safe.

The press conferences are all held in nearby rooms and you’ll be reminded of them by the IPW staff. There is also a host city desk set up so you can make extra arrangements and get info for your stories with their staff.

Can I bring a friend to IPW?
Your hotel room can be requested for two people, so if your partner or a friend fancies 5 nights of free accommodation, bring them! The thing to consider is they cannot join you at any of the events as they have no credentials and you will be out all day for 4 days. However, I’ve done it most years and my husband or cousin have joined me so we can go on after IPW and do our own travels.

Inside tip!
By Wednesday afternoon I have usually done all I want to do. I’ve been down on the trade floor and caught up with any destinations or companies I wanted to connect with and as I’m usually looking for another story, or more to add to the one I’m working on, so I’ll skip out and go and do a local activity. I might organise to visit a theme park or shop in a new precinct or visit a museum. Then make sure I’m back at my hotel to go to the closing night party!

So how do I get invited to IPW!?
Good question! You’ll need to find out who is your local IAC committee (International Advisory Committee) rep is for US Travel and put a proposal to them about what outlets you write for and let them know you’d like to be invited. Note that you’ll need to make your own way to the destination, but maybe you can hook up an airline to assist you.

If you’re an international buyer click on this link >>

International media wanting to attend should start here on this link >>

Maybe I’ll see you there?

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!