Registration systems do more than cut queues. Ben Cardew gets the lowdown on the latest information-gathering devices

The British are renowned for their love of queueing, but that doesn't mean everyone is happy to stand around waiting for a registration badge at the start of an exhibition or event.

The registration process can make a lasting impression on visitors, and exhibitors will be none too pleased if people arrive on the show floor in a bad mood thanks to inefficient procedures.

Event Advantage Solutions (EAS) director Peder Berg says the solution is simple. "Pre-registration saves us a hell of a lot of stress - the shorter the queues the better," he says. EAS has developed a pre-registration system called Fusion, where the company emails personalised invites to potential visitors and then tracks which are being opened and responded to. EAS used a variant on this system at speed-dating event Chemistry in October 2003, enabling attendees to send messages to fellow visitors that they hoped to meet prior to the event.

Dataco Systems manages registration for World Travel Market (WTM) at Excel. The Reed Travel Exhibitions show in London's Docklands attracts Dataco managing director Paul West says thorough preparation is key. "A system is only as good as the operator, but if a system is bad there is only so much a good operator can do," he says.

As well as improved methods for registration and badge delivery, systems are being developed that allow organisers to capture data about visitors during the event. This typically involves using bar codes and scanner pens, such as Identilam's Badge & Track system, to provide instant information about visitors.

No physical contact

Berg from EAS believes bar code systems will become obsolete. "They can interrupt communication so we've been experimenting with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), a wireless system that lets users read information from a smart tag without having to make physical contact with visitors," he explains. "The data can then be immediately transferred to event management software."

Registration Master from Mission Business Systems (MBS) uses this technology, and microchips are built into name badges to allow accurate data capture without bar codes or smart cards.

Not everyone is convinced. CTS managing director David Edwards says: "We've explored using chips, but it's expensive and you can still get visitors in quickly with traditional methods of scanning." CTS recently launched a lead capture system on a hand-held computer (PDA) that enables exhibitors to access information about a visitor by keying in the relevant badge number.

MBS also offers a hand-held computer version of Web-based event management software. MBS director of operations Simon Young says: "Once the Regis system is online you can sit back and relax. The whole thing is pretty much self-managing and can process data that you can access anywhere at any time."

Hewlett-Packard used the system to register visitors to its stand at Telecom World 2003 in Geneva as well as book meetings and accommodation.

"Once you have collected the data you can download it to a spreadsheet program and create a visitor database that you can work on offline," adds Young.

New methods of data capture are increasingly important because of the Data Protection Act, which restricts the use of business cards collected on stands. Companies must be given explicit permission to use contact details and data collected for one purpose only, such as a competition.

Business cards cannot then be used for another purpose such as lead capture unless it is advertised at the time.

Berg from EAS remains positive. "The act is necessary and not all that restrictive. You just need to ask for permission," he says. But Dataco's West disagrees. "The act controls what we can and can't do, and an increasing percentage of people are opting out of participating," he bemoans.

There is no simple solution to ensure a positive registration experience for exhibitors and visitors, but the advent of new technologies shows registration and event firms are rising to the challenge.

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