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Spotlight on international attendance

The Show is more than just national; it’s a globally impactful event. Let's delve into the Show’s growing international reputation and explore the journey of global foodservice professionals to the Show.

December 11, 2023

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With its strong international following, the Show stands as a global hotspot, drawing foodservice pros from around the world to Chicago each year. With help from Show team members Tom Cindric and Andres Tovar, we peel back the curtain to take a closer look at the Show’s international reach, including its attendee acquisition strategies, resources for international pros and plans for expansion into new global markets

A global event

“Historically the Show’s been very international,” says Tom Cindric, President of Winsight Exhibitions. Despite its name, the “National” Restaurant Show has indeed garnered a significant following abroad, particularly in places like China and Latin America. Cindric attributes this to the fact that the “largest operators and manufacturers in foodservice” are U.S. based, making Show attendance appealing for global players seeking to gain a competitive edge. Pre-pandemic, international attendance comprised about 10 or 11% of the Show’s total audience. However, when travel restrictions were imposed, the Show team had to work hard to compensate for an expected dip from China—one of their largest international contingents. “During the pandemic, we really focused on South America, and we’ve seen tremendous expansion, particularly in Brazil. The Latin and South American audience really offset the Asian audience, but now we’re starting to see them come back,” explains Cindric. International marketing specialist Andres Tovar adds, “[The 2023 Show] experienced a 15.6% growth in international attendance compared to 2022, surpassing pre-pandemic levels by 3.3%. So, we are back on track.”  

The international journey

Like most domestic attendees, an international operator’s path to the Show typically begins with awareness fostered through marketing. “We do a robust [international] marketing campaign every year that includes emails segmented by country and language as well as paid media for certain markets,” says Tovar. “We [also] have delegation programs and partnerships that help us reach countries we normally wouldn’t.” Delegations, Tovar stresses, are key to attracting foodservice professionals from smaller, untapped markets like Mozambique, Chile and the Philippines where extra guidance is needed due to language barriers and lack of familiarity with the event. Even in larger countries like Brazil, delegation programs play a vital role in helping operators plan their trips. Tovar explains, “It’s really a concierge service that we offer to help [attendees] maximize their trip because we know it can be an investment.” 

Once registered for the event, international folks undergo a rigorous preparation and travel process that includes visa applications, currency exchange, hiring translators and managing jet lag. In Chicago, they can catch their breath at the Show’s “International Trade Center.” “There, [they] can find onsite interpreters who can answer questions as well as workstations, coffee stations and private meeting rooms for conversations with peers,” says Tovar. International attendees are also invited to the Show’s exclusive “International Reception” where they can celebrate and network with fellow operators from abroad. With the journey complete, global attendees stand out as some of the most motivated operators on the Show floor each day. “Since it’s a big investment, international attendees are really interested in doing business and being productive at the Show,” says Tovar.  
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Looking towards the future

When it comes to feedback from global attendees, the message is clear—they simply want more. “A lot of feedback has to do with education,” notes Tovar. “A lot of people ask if there are going to be sessions in different languages, or options for having an interpreter [in sessions]—it’s mostly about languages.” Overall, though, the Show consistently receives positive responses from its international contingent. Tovar states, “I can’t speak for all regions, but from what I’ve seen with the Latin American region, they look up to the Show. There is an aspirational aspect in coming to the U.S. and to the Show because it’s leading in new trends and products year over year.” It is this positive response that fuels the Show team’s enthusiasm for ongoing international expansion. “Ultimately, we want to be strong and continue our growth in Latin America, continue our growth in Asia and do a little better in Europe and other parts of the world, says Cindric. “We’d like to get [international attendance] to around 15% [of total attendance] as the Show grows. However, it’s not just about the volume of attendees. What’s most important is fostering deeper relationships with those countries and delegations.”

For further information, please visit our International Attendees webpage.
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