The events and trade show business could be in for dramatic change if the public’s current fear of flying is prolonged in the wake of last month’s terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
With business travel now taking a back seat to uncertainty about pending war, the industry is facing some tough challenges. The worst case scenario would be if the industry shut down entirely, which is what happened during World War II when U.S. exhibitions went dark between 1942 and 1945.
But while the attacks have so far led to many cancellations, b-to-b publishers with a heavy trade show presence said they expect exhibitions to eventually rebound after a sharp downturn in the near term.
"We’ve all been traumatized by events, and none of us are anxious to get on a plane," said Tom Kemp, chairman-CEO of Penton Media Inc., which produces about 160 trade shows and conferences a year, representing 42% of the company’s annual revenue.
Kemp stressed that 75% of trade show attendees come from within a 500-mile radius of the event. "There are alternative ways for attendees to get to the shows—trains, cars. [Traveling] is more problematic for exhibitors than attendees."
Kemp said Penton had canceled just one of its smaller IT conferences following the terrorist attacks. The company’s flagship Internet World Fall show, originally planned for early October, has been rescheduled for Dec. 10-14 at the Jacob Javits Center in New York. "We can’t let those bastards paralyze the country," he said.
Advanstar Communications Inc., another major player in the events business, has rescheduled its Abilities Expo in Boston for Nov. 16-18. The show had been scheduled for Sept. 21-23. Advanstar was also trying to reschedule its FEMME women’s apparel trade show, originally scheduled for Sept. 23-25 in Boston.
"We’re having a discussion with the principal players," said Bob Krakoff, chairman-CEO of Advanstar, which typically holds 84 events a year. "We can say we want to hold an event but if the vendors say ‘no way’ there’s nothing we can do. It depends on where the trade show is and when it’s scheduled."
Through August, events accounted for 59% of Advanstar’s annual revenue. Trade shows accounted for 53% of annual revenue last year.
‘Show in print’
Asked what the alternative may be to nixed trade shows, Krakoff said there could be a"show in print" in which the exhibit is presented on the page, as well as increasing the number of Webcasts.
Penton’s Kemp disputed the effectiveness of such moves. "If you go to another medium, you’re going to lose it," he said.
George P. Johnson Co., one of the oldest events marketing companies in the country, has already developed contingency plans for its clients should business travel dry up even further. Plans include"regionalizing" events so there’s less travel involved, said Michael Westcott, director-marketing. Plans also include helping clients communicate via the Web and traditional media.
Since the attacks, the company has canceled 25 of 160 events planned worldwide for the remainder of the year. Yet, Westcott said cancellations were starting to slow."There’s a strong need for people to get together, build the community and increase communication," he said.