Shows stage a comeback

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After several tough years, trade shows bounced back in 2004 to 2000 levels, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research.

The initial results of CEIR’s 2004 Exhibition Industry Index, released in June, show that attendance, the number of exhibiting companies, revenue and net square footage all increased compared with 2003. The findings were calculated using a 2000 base of 100.

Net square footage showed the most improvement last year, with an index of 109.6, up from 102.3 in 2003. Attendance indexed at 103.8, up from 97.1 in ‘03.

Meanwhile, the index of exhibiting companies was 103.3 in 2004, up from 98.3 in 2003. Revenue ended 2004 at 97.0, reflecting an incomplete rebound since 2000 but an improvement over 2003’s 94.1.

"It certainly indicates a trend toward recovery," said Doug Ducate, president-CEO of CEIR. "We’re beginning to feel more comfortable that the recovery is real. It dispels the theory that we’re a shrinking or a dying industry."

Adam Schaffer, publisher of Tradeshow Week, a Reed Business Information publication, was more cautious. While he sees some recovery in his own industry tracking, the industry still faces challenges, he said.

"While life’s getting better for all of us, we’re still working very hard to maintain and grow revenue and profits," Schaffer said. "Pricing pressures and economic factors are making that more difficult." He said it’s "not dissimilar to what’s going on inside b-to-b publishing."

Tradeshow Week is tracking an upward trend in its three key metrics: attendance, square footage and number of exhibiting companies, Schaffer said. It does not track revenue.

Some show producers say times are better.

"I think there’s much more money in the C-level suite, which is who we’re talking to," said Gwen Connelly, VP-operations and creative services at MediaTec Publishing, a business media company that is fairly new to the event industry. "We’re seeing an increase in revenue."

"The enterprise is healthier, the economy is healthier and the executives we’re talking to have more buying power now," Connelly said.

CEIR’s Ducate agreed. "Excluding outside forces beyond our control, we think the industry is well positioned for growth," he said.

Another recent report supports the optimistic view.

Average attendance at trade shows and association conferences was up 4.24% in the first quarter of 2005, according to the CGS Index, published in June by Conferon Global Services, an event management company.

CGS’ numbers are based on an analysis of year-to-year attendance figures for more than 200 events held annually in 2002, 2003 and 2004. Average attendance at those trade shows and association conventions grew 2.2% and 2.7% in 2003 and 2004, respectively, according to CGS.

CGS said this was the first official report of the CGS Trade Show/Convention Attendance Index, and it will release subsequent reports quarterly.

CEIR will present its entire 2004 Index at its Exhibition Industry Senior Executives Summit in September, including performance data for individual industry sectors.

"Exhibitions mirror the industries they serve," Ducate said. "The index has clearly shown industry sectors are going to perform differently. You can’t paint the [exhibition] industry with a single brush anymore," he said.

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