Innovative Planning at The Global Pet Expo Creates Greater Productivity for Attendees

Andrew Darmohraj, EVP and COO of the American Pet Products Association, shares his strategy for delighting attendees in Orlando.

To create innovative and interactive meetings, planners around the nation are raising the bar on productivity and capitalizing on attendee experience. In Orlando, seven planners have exceeded in this realm, setting the bar high for both their peers and the industry. In this series, we’ll learn how these planners are driving change, creating memorable events and inspiring their attendees at each and every meeting.

Meet our fifth “Planner of Productivity”: Andrew Darmohraj, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the American Pet Products Association, based in Stamford, Connecticut. As part of his role, Darmohraj oversees the production of Global Pet Expo, which is held in Orlando each year. In 2020, the show will be held February 26–28.

Visit Orlando: How do you define innovation and what are you doing to infuse this into the meetings you plan? 

Andrew Darmohraj: Innovation is any way you can provide anything new and helpful to your customer base, whether that’s on the exhibitor side or the attendee side. We’re always looking at what we can be doing differently, what new technologies we can be using, how we can be improving our systems to make the experience better for all of our attendees.

VO: How have such innovative approaches allowed for greater productivity in meetings?

AD: This past year we created a dashboard system that all of our exhibitors could use. As soon as they logged in to their account they could have a snapshot of everything that was in process or still needed to be done. We got really positive responses from our exhibitors, saying it was so much easier to be able to see everything in one place.

On the buyers’ side, we’re always looking at what we can do to make their experience better. The show is large and three days long—navigating from appointment to appointment takes some time, so the more helpful we can make it to connect the buyers with the exhibitors, the better it is for the buyers. And if the buyers are more efficient, they’re buying more product from our exhibitors.

From a facility standpoint, the layout of the Orange County Convention Center has allowed the show to grow without disruption. Ten years ago we used Halls A and B. Over time, we have added Halls C–E in a natural growth pattern that is easy for exhibitors and buyers. As we have grown, Visit Orlando has helped us with expanding our hotel packages and with creating long-term relationships with vendors.

VO: Taking advantage of smart, flexible meeting space is one of the largest trends this year. How have you utilized this trend for greater productivity?

AD: We’ve set up small areas where we can do pop-up education on the show floor. That’s also a place for collaboration among the attendees. We also have a “coffee house,” where it’s a little more upscale and you can get a cup of coffee, charge your device and have a meeting. One of the things that has been the biggest hit at our show is the “sports bar.” Some years our meeting falls during the NCAA basketball tournament, so we actually build a bar on the show floor with TVs showing sports.

VO: What advice would you give to peers about keeping up with consumer expectations? How should they not only manage this, but continuously surprise and delight attendees?

AD: No. 1 is you need feedback from your customers. You can come up with a great idea that you think is the greatest invention ever, but if it’s something that your attendees don’t want, it’s not going to succeed. You need to survey your attendees every year. And take advantage of opportunities to have conversations with them, whether on a one-on-one basis or through focus groups. We learned so much from our attendees about helping them be able to navigate the show floor because it’s so big. What we’ve created is a direct response to customer input.

As for the surprise element, attendees come to our show every year, so they know what to expect. But you always want to have something that’s a little different: “Oh, we’ve never seen this before!” You want to generate excitement so the experience doesn’t become stale for them year after year.

VO: Describe a few of the initiatives you’ve spearheaded—no matter how large or small—to improve the attendee experience.

AD: About six or seven years ago, we started doing a trolley on the show floor. People schedule meetings and one meeting’s in the 400 aisle, the next is in the 4,600 aisle. Just that walk could take 10 or 15 minutes, so we have trollies that run on a loop throughout the exhibit hall. You can flag them down wherever you are, hop on and it takes you on the loop.

Probably the next important thing we’ve done is that we’ve put a lot of effort trying to connect exhibitors and buyers to schedule appointments. It’s something that was done through our website, and in 2020 we’re transitioning that so they’re going to be able to schedule those meetings on the app. It’s great for the exhibitors because they know who’s coming and they can be prepared. And also it makes it easier for the attendees to make a top 10 list of the vendors they need to see.

We return to Orlando every year for a few reasons. Most important is that the show has grown every year that we have been in Orlando, both in terms of exhibiting companies and buyers. Our attendees come from all 50 states and from 90 countries around the world, so airport access is very important. Orlando’s airport has great service for domestic and international travelers. Also, the area around the Orange County Convention Center has evolved over the years. There is now a great selection of hotels in every price point for our attendees. The restaurant and entertainment options in the area have also grown significantly.

VO: When thinking about unique experiences in Orlando, which offsite location do you prefer: Café Tu Tu Tango? Cuba Libre? ICON Park?

AD: I love Tu Tu Tango. You can go with a big group and order tons of plates that everyone shares. It’s very fun and casual. They also have local artwork that’s on display and for sale. Even if you’re not in the market for something, you get to see what the local artists are producing in Orlando.

This article has been provided by Visit Orlando.

When it comes to productivity, innovation and unique attendee experience, Orlando usually tops the list. With fantastical backdrops you won’t find anywhere else, only Orlando can offer incredible once-in-a-lifetime experiences that your attendees will be talking about for years to come. Tapping into the heritage of creative thinking from its first-rate theme parks, Orlando offers a wide range of creative resources to help your transform your meeting or event. From unique team building activities, exclusive dine-around options to immersive private events inside its world-renowned theme parks complete with a fire-breathing dragon, you are sure to wow your group in Orlando. Discover the many resources available to you to help make your next meeting or event unforgettable at

(The Photo Group)