And the CEIR Survey Says, Shows Are Growing

(Originally published October 10, 2005)

Chicago — The Center for Exhibition Industry Research has released data from both its second Annual Exhibition Industry Index and its Exhibition Industry Census II. The two reports seem to indicate that a slow recovery of the trade show industry is continuing.

"It's good news," said CEIR president and CEO Doug Ducate of the Census II data. "There was some concern that because of event casualties, particularly in the IT sector, there may have been a decline in the total number of events.And that has not been the case."

The number of events in the U.S. and Canada increased to 14,124 from the 13,185 tallied in 2000. "I think it's fair to say that the 2005 figures are statistically equal to the 2000 figures," said Ducate.

However, CEIR's Industry Index indicates that event revenue is still trailing 2000 levels. As opposed to the Census, which is a periodic snapshot of the industry as a whole, the Index is a statistical projection based on a sample of 260 trade shows that measures four metrics: professional attendance, net square footage of exhibit space, number of exhibiting companies and revenue.

All four improved over the past year, with net square footage of exhibit space leading the way with a seven index-point increase. Revenue, however, advanced by only two index points, and still lags behind 2000 levels. Ducate cited a sluggish recovery of marketing budgets and persistent discounting by trade show organizers to account for the lag.

Stephen Schuldenfrei, president of the Chicago-based Trade Show Exhibitors Association, said there could be other reasons, including the continuing interest in private events by corporations.

"A few years ago, I would have said the interest in corporate private events was just a trend, but I think it's here to stay," Schuldenfrei said.

"The question is whether companies are putting more money into marketing while maintaining trade show budgets, or whether they're transferring that money from trade shows to other media, including the Internet, corporate private events, advertising, and everything else that's part of the mix."

It's a question unanswered by the recent reports and one which many say is too early to address.

The Index identifies healthcare, building and construction, and food as among the strongest sectors for exhibitions, with IT, telecom and manufacturing among the weakest. Taken together, according to the Index, industry performance has now reached 103.6, from a baseline of 100.0 established in 2000.

Not everyone is convinced the industry is growing, however. Heywood Sanders, professor of public administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio, concluded in a January Brookings Institution report that the "overall convention marketplace is declining in a manner that suggests that a recovery or turnaround is unlikely to yield much increased business."

And CEIR's recent data releases did little to change his mind.

"It's remarkably murky, but what we do know is that the supply of exhibit hall space has gone up steadily," Sanders said. "If we make a parallel index for exhibit space with a baseline of 100 for the year 2000, the 2004 value is 122.1, and it's going to keep going up."

Indeed, the Census II shows that while in 2000 just 16 cities hosted more than half of all exhibitions, now there are 25 destinations that share the majority of events.

Still, many exhibition industry insiders maintain that personally they are experiencing a recovery.

"We're not growing exponentially, that's for certain, but business is starting to feel more robust and more solid," said Tamara Christian, president of Alexandria, Va.-based National Trade Show Productions.

"And if the growth continues this way, it could have a tremendous effect over three years' time. It's not dramatic, but it's heading in the right direction."