To continuously improve events, VP Blake Swango incorporates feedback from all American Sportfishing Association members and exhibitors.
Our seventh planner of productivity is Blake Swango, vice president of trade and membership for the American Sportfishing Association. Established in 1933, ASA includes more than 900 member organizations representing all aspects of America’s $50 billion recreational fishing industry.
Swango, who has a background in both political science and environmental studies, joined ASA in 2016 to direct the organization’s premier event: the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades, better known as ICAST. ASA is based in Alexandria, VA, but since 2014 has chosen to host ICAST at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center.
This past July, more than 10,850 exhibitors and members attended the event, creating an estimated economic impact of $27.9 million. Attendees participated in new product launches and networking, as well as virtual product demos and webinars. Partnering with Visit Orlando, the Convention Center and Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission allowed Swago to pull off a safe event. Swango also had peer support as well: when he attended an event in Orlando in January 2021, the Visit Orlando team connected him with the planner who had learned the ropes and shared key insights for how they held a safe event. Leaning into this network of support, along with listening to feedback from the exhibitors, ensures ICAST 2022 will be just as memorable.
VO: This year has brought a lot of change. How do you define innovation right now and what are you doing to infuse it into your trade show plans for 2022?
BS: This year, we decided to hold our trade show as an on-site, in-person show at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. Our industry thrives on face-to-face business, and our community told us they would support the show’s live format.
One of the reasons is that ICAST is all about what products will excite the community. For us, that means the New Product Showcase. ICAST is THE place where our member exhibitors debut their new tackle, gear, apparel and accessories for the entire sportfishing community. In a “normal” year, there would be more than 1,000 innovations shown to the sportfishing community. Each of the exhibitors hopes that their product will be chosen as “Best in Show.” We are always looking for ways to up the “excitement factor” for the showcase and our other events.
VO: What advice would you give to peers about meeting show attendees’ expectations?
BS: For ASA, we decided to produce an in-person show, and it worked for us. Every organization is different, so I suggest listening to your exhibitors about what they want. Assess the venue and location to see if it will work for them and make plans from there.
VO: Why did you select Orlando as the sole host destination for ICAST?
BS: Florida is known as the sportfishing capital of the world and the Southeast is, by far, the part of the U.S. that supports the most recreational fishing. Orlando is a natural fit for the largest recreational fishing trade show in the world. So, it’s hard to say if we picked Florida or if Florida picked us.
I enjoy all the amenities that the area offers to me and my family as well. The Orlando area—and Florida itself—has a lot of appeal for both our domestic and international trade show attendees. Not only is it a natural fit for our industry, but it’s within driving distance to many retail outlets in Florida and throughout the Southeast. The Orlando airport is a hub for both domestic and international flights making travel easy. We hope that in 2022, most air travel will be back in full swing.
VO: What’s your favorite experience there?
BS: We convinced our Orange County Convention Center partners to let us stock the ponds located behind the buildings with fish so that we could debut our popular “On The Water” fishing tackle demo day. The convention center staff worked with us and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to ensure that the catch-and-release fishing during ICAST (and in between my site visit meetings!) was the best. My thanks go to their staff for storing my fishing rods in their offices!
VO: What is your relationship like with Visit Orlando? How did you first get connected?
BS: I inherited the relationship with Visit Orlando when I joined ASA in 2016. Since that time, I believe our relationship has grown stronger as we’ve worked together to make ICAST a bigger and better overall show experience. There are many bigger organizations and trade shows that work with Visit Orlando, but they never let you know it.
Visit Orlando was there every step of the way to provide updated communications about what was going on at the Convention Center. The team even produced a short video specific to ICAST for us to share with our membership.
This article has been provided by Visit Orlando.
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