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Economic downturn felt by trade shows: Fewer, but higher-quality attendees expected

The current economic climate has trickled down to technology tradeshows as the first major showcase of the year experienced a decline in attendance. How severely wireless-specific trade shows are impacted by the recession will be tested next month.
The International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas attracted more than 110,000 people during the show’s four-day run earlier this month, according to figures released by the Consumer Electronics Association. In 2008, the show attracted 140,000 attendees.
“The show was smaller, but it was more business-oriented,” said Tara Dunion, CEA director of communications. “We knew it would not be our largest ever. We knew attendance would fall.”
Dunion said all the key companies attended the event, but said many decided to send fewer employees than in years past.
Despite the lower turnout for the CES event, officials said it was a success because companies were able to focus more on meeting with potential customers. The CEA Board of Industry Leaders has even recommended that the CEA staff should strive to restrict future attendance to a similar level that attended this year. The board is comprised of top executives from large and small manufacturers and retailers.
“Our board concluded that it is essential to have the right people attend CES,” Gary Shapiro, CEA president and CEO, said in a statement. “Board members reported getting more business done this year than at any prior show.”
Shapiro said that one board member reported that his company held 450 customer meetings while at the show.
“Quality trumps quantity when it comes to exhibitors and attendees conducting business at CES,” he said. “CEA’s research shows that on average, each CES attendee holds 12 meetings at the show, making CES a smart, strategic and economical business decision.”
For the show, more than 2,700 companies from around the globe unveiled an estimated 20,000 new technology products. The show featured 1.7 million square feet of exhibition space, which was a little smaller than the 2008 exhibit floor.
Official attendance from the show will be released in about three months, Dunion said. An independent audit will be done in the next 90 days to verify attendance.
What about wireless?
For wireless-specific shows, the first test will come with the Mobile World Congress event scheduled for mid-February in Barcelona, Spain. The GSM Association said last year’s event drew more than 55,000 attendees.


The GSMA is currently promoting a “Buy 3, get 1 free” deal for attendees on its Web site.
Domestically, wireless trade association CTIA is set to kick off its annual wireless convention March 31. The event historically is the largest and most comprehensive wireless show in North America.
CTIA officials are planning for 1,200 exhibiting companies and more than 40,000 professionals to attend this year’s event. The numbers are exactly the same when compared to last year’s event, which was the largest CTIA has held so far, said Rob Mesirow, CTIA’s VP of operations.
CTIA officials are also tracking hotel occupancy for that week in Las Vegas and their numbers so far show a 2% decline when compared to the same time a year ago.
However, Mesirow said the wireless organization is expecting that the current environment will have some impact on the show.
“This is a very deep and global recession,” he said. “It certainly will touch us.
“We have been on a pretty good growth pattern in the last several years, but so has wireless. Trade shows are a reflection of what is happening in the marketplace.”
With the current state of the global economy, Mesirow said trade shows like CTIA become much more valuable for businesses.
“Trade shows are a marketplace,” he said. “In a down economy, they make more sense. These types of marketplaces are cost effective.”
Mesirow said the economy could also spur more people attend the event because prices for hotels in Las Vegas continue to decrease in order to attract tourists. A search of hotel prices showed a four-star hotel on the Las Vegas Strip for as low as $71 per night for the week of CTIA.


“Prices are getting very reasonable,” he said. “I think the economy is in a position to also help us.”
CTIA is also actively working on its fall Wireless I.T. & Entertainment show, which is set for San Diego Oct. 6.
“The I.T. show is 80% sold out,” Mesirow said. “The show is expected to do very well.”
Far reaching
And while some companies may send fewer employees to trade shows, others are planning to dismiss them all together.
Prior to Macworld Conference & Expo 2009, which was held Jan. 5-9 in San Francisco, Apple Inc. announced it would be the last show that it would exhibit.
“Apple is reaching more people in more ways that ever before, so like many companies, trade shows have become a very minor part in how Apple reaches its customers,” the company said in a statement.
Attendance figures for Macworld are expected to be released in about two months. Attendance figures will be determined by an independent audit. In 2008, Macworld attracted 47,000 people and in 2007 had an attendance of 45,000 people.
Apple said its has been steadily scaling back on trade shows in recent years, including NAB, Macworld New York, Macworld Tokyo and Apple Expo in Paris.
Nokia Siemens Networks is also changing the way it treats trade shows. The company is scaling back on exhibits at some trade shows, deciding to be present in other ways, said Susan Schramm, NSN director of marketing for North America.
“Though part of this is due to the economic environment, it is actually more about being more strategic in our presence,” she said. “At the same time, we recognize that tradeshows still represent a very cost efficient way to reach a large number of customers face to face, and deliver a message to the market about the health of an industry.”
Schramm said NSN will continue to have a strong presence at CTIA, Mobile World Congress and Supercomm.


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