I used to be excited about Comdex. I'd look at that 200,000-plus attendance figure and think, “Gee, it's like the population of Rochester, N.Y., moves into town for a week and a half.” Then I found out about CeBIT, where the equivalent of the population of San Francisco (746,000), plus another 100,000 or so guests, moves into Hannover, Germany, for an eight-day trade show. Yikes!

The city of Hannover has a population of only 514,000, which leads us to the first thing you need to know: If you haven't booked a hotel room, it's already way too late. Unlike Las Vegas, Hannover's main business is not tourism. Not to worry. Most CeBIT attendees don't stay in hotels. They rent rooms or apartments or whole houses from Hannover locals. “When I go to CeBIT, that's what I do,” says Brock McCormack, communications manager for Hannover Fairs USA Inc. The Princeton, N.J.-based marketing arm of Hannover Fairs has a housing department to make such arrangements for U.S. exhibitors.

There are more to the differences between Comdex and CeBIT than housing. An important one to understand is the extent to which exhibiting and entertaining are intertwined at CeBIT. For example, Comdex exhibitors customarily maintain hospitality suites at Las Vegas hotels. At CeBIT, hospitality is just another aspect of booth activity. Large companies such as Siemens or Microsoft take huge portions of the exhibition halls in Hannover and use them not only for exhibits, but for meetings and entertainment.

“Usually there will be a private reception area — either a second level of the stand [booth, to Americans] or an area that's cordoned off,” says McCormack. “That will be for serious prospects, special customers, and company VIPs. Usually, it will have full bar and food service, including the ability to have sit-down meals, with waiters taking orders like in a restaurant.” Yet another area of the booth may have private meeting rooms.

To get an idea of the scale of this kind of exhibit booth, consider the Hannover Fairgrounds' Hall One, which is open only during CeBIT. “Exhibitors in Hall One sign multiyear contracts for their stands, which are permanent,” says McCormack. When CeBIT time rolls around, exhibit designers and workers descend on Hall One and configure the permanent booths for whatever the coming year's theme may be.

Exhibitors with smaller budgets can buy all-inclusive packages, which include turnkey booths. Internet connections and other services are available, and, in keeping with the philosophy of combining exhibits with hospitality, exhibitors in the larger pavilions have access to a shared lounge with bar and food service.

The point, according to McCormack, is to create an environment in which neither attendees nor exhibitors need to leave. Which is not to say that special events don't take place off-site anyway. “There are a number of hotels near the fairgrounds where you can rent a conference facility for a special event tied to the show,” he says. “You can also rent the Hannover Congress Centrum, although that's not something you can coordinate through us.”

All told, the Hannover Fairgrounds offers approximately 5 million square feet of indoor display space in 26 exhibit halls. There is also about 624,000 square feet of outdoor display space. A 27th hall, which will add 345,000 square feet of exhibit space, is under construction and is expected to be open for CeBIT 2002, which takes place March 13 to 20.

Resources

To learn more about CeBIT, visit the Hannover Fairs USA Web site at www.hfusa.com/cebit.

To learn more about the Hannover Congress Centrum and other venues outside the fairgrounds, visit www.expo.hannover.de/english/tourist.htm.