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Business travelers soldier on

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Business travel has been only slightly affected by the war with Iraq, in contrast with the impact felt by past wars and dramatic events.

"Sept. 11 had much more of an impact," said Susan Friedmann, founder of The Tradeshow Coach, a meeting consultancy in Lake Placid, N.Y. "It affected the entire meeting and trade show industry."

Friedmann, whose clients include the American Society of Association Executives, the International Association of Exhibit Managers and the International Plastics Association, said it was too soon to determine all of the ramifications of the war with Iraq on the current trade show climate.

But, she added, Sept. 11, together with the slow economy, changed the meeting business dramatically. Prior to the terrorist attacks, she explained, large clients would often send 20 or more people to a trade show. While those numbers are down significantly, companies are now sending more highly qualified people who are better suited for the show.

"I believe the war is having the same impact," Friedmann said. "You’re getting quality rather than quantity."

Jupiter’s cancellations

Alan Meckler, chairman-CEO of Jupitermedia, Darien, Conn., said the war’s impact has been felt in Jupiter’s conference business, but not as acutely as in the past. Jupiter had cancellations by about 10 attendees for its March Jupiter Online Media Conference in New York. All of the attendees who cancelled were coming from out of state, he noted. In addition, the show probably lost 20 to 30 on-site registrants, bringing total attendance to about 130, Meckler said.

Jupiter’s policy is to refund money to those who want to cancel, although most took a credit for a future show, he said.

"I don’t think it was as bad as during the Gulf War," he said. "This is much more mild." In 1991, Meckler was running a show called Computers and Libraries, which typically attracted about 1,500 paid attendees. "I almost went bankrupt during the Gulf War in 1991," he said. "Only about 400 people showed up."

This time around, he said, the impact of the war on business travel is not as drastic, although it is being felt. "There is a definite slowdown on shows this month, based on our signups through March 20," he said. "I think people started to cut back on travel plans when they knew the war was coming."

Jupiter produces more than 40 shows around the globe annually.

Exhibitor Show strong

The Exhibitor Show, a trade show for trade show professionals held in Las Vegas in March, had only five cancellations out of approximately 5,000 attendees, said Wayne Dunham, spokesman for the event, which is produced by Exhibitor Publications, Minneapolis. Three of those cancellations were from people in Canada.

"We averaged about 300 calls a day during the week before the show from people wanting to know if we were going to cancel it," Dunham said. "We were a little shell-shocked." The show ended up being the second strongest in the company’s 15-year history, he added.

The story was much different for the company after Sept. 11, Dunham said. Exhibitor Publications held a conference called The Fast Track in Baltimore about three weeks after Sept. 11, and about half of the attendees cancelled.

"It was a financial disaster for the show management," Dunham said. "People were worried the same thing would happen [with the current war]." But, so far, that hasn’t happened.

Meanwhile, airlines and hotels are taking a low-key approach to advertising during wartime. Many are beefing up their online efforts and driving travelers to their Web sites rather than running high-profile campaigns.

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