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2010 outlook: Boutique events, cost management

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Doug Ducate is president-CEO of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. BtoB talked to him about upcoming trends in the events industry. BtoB: Are there any hurdles you see for the event industry this year? Doug Ducate: The two big challenges are time and cost. Time in many ways—prior to the economic decline—was a bigger factor then cost, particularly among young professionals. The time that we are asking people to take away from the rest of their lives is probably every bit as important as the cost. The cost factor is a cyclical thing. In August 2001, before 9/11, 77% of American manufacturers had already imposed travel restrictions. What happened with [the aftermath of 9/11 was] everything that happened after tended to mask what was going to happen anyway. Those budgets took a while to come back. BtoB: What can event marketers do to overcome those challenges? Ducate: They've got to make a compelling case for why people should come, and they've got to find the right locations and the right time frames that provide more convenience. We've [also] got to attack the cost issues in order to continue to appeal to the less-than-upper-end socioeconomic groups, who need to get approval to go to the event. Finding some solutions to those issues is a major challenge for the industry. I believe it is going to be a primary challenge during 2010. We'll see a variety of things undertaken in the areas that we can control, and [we will need to recognize] that there are areas we can't control, like airline fees. An organizer's challenge begins with: “How do I minimize the hassle and cost and maximize the use of that person's time?” BtoB: Will there be a different type of event that becomes more common? I think we're seeing some trends toward more vertical boutique events then towards mega-shows and horizontal events. Attendees are saying: “I want to go to an event with my peers, and I want to see exhibits in my area of influence.” Identifying what people are interested in is important—and so is making sure you don't dilute your event by throwing in a bunch of stuff that [attendees are] not interested in. The old days of exhibitions 50 years ago was a real estate transaction. If you were having a show and you were going to have 10,000 people there, it didn't matter who they were. It took some lessons learned to get away from the old mentality and say this is about the attendees. More and more events are attendee-oriented and focused on matching buyers and sellers, so you don't have these unrelated peripherals that dilute the focus of why you're there. BtoB: Is there going to be an upswing in attendance as the economy rebounds? Ducate: The anecdotal information on the events held in the first three weeks of the year is encouraging as compared to the first three weeks of last year. It's like the economic recovery of the stock market; at the moment, things are headed in the right direction. Things are looking up. Probably one of the most positive long-term indicators is our two-year generational study. We wanted to find out what 20- and 30-year-olds are thinking. The results are extremely positive regarding their attitudes toward live events. [The survey, “Power of Exhibitions in the 21st Century: Identify, Discover and Embrace Change From the Viewpoint of Young Professionals,” was released in October. CEIR conducted 325 on-site surveys at 10 b-to-b events with attendees ages 20 to 39.] When I look at the future, creative thinking needs to happen among the organizers, keeping their events fresh, and reacting to what people want and what they demand in order to take their time away from them. M
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