The worst year for the exhibition industry in recent history—2009—ended with an overall decline of 12.5 percent, representing declines in attendance, number of exhibiting companies, net square footage of exhibit space booked, and revenues, according to the CEIR Index, published by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research.

The decline of 12.5 percent is four times greater than the previous worst year ever, 2008, when the industry fell 3 percent.

There was no avoiding the negative effects of the recession as all 11 sectors that CEIR tracks experienced overall declines last year. "The length, depth, and reach of this recession made resistance impossible," said Douglas Ducate, president and chief executive officer at CEIR, in a press release.

In the fourth quarter the industry dropped 9 percent compared to the same period the previous year, marking the seventh straight quarter that the index has shown an overall decline. The decline was not as steep as the third quarter, when the index fell 13.5 percent on a year-over-year basis.

Looking at the four metrics that the CEIR Index tracks, professional attendance performed the best, declining 4 percent in the fourth quarter. The number of exhibiting companies dropped 6 percent, while net square footage of exhibit space declined 12 percent, and revenues fell 13 percent. All four metrics were an improvement over the first three quarters, but were still down 15 to 30 percent from 2007 highs.

CEIR officials say the outlook for 2010 is much better. Anecdotal information from events held in January and February is encouraging, indicating that the recovery is under way. However, since the exhibition industry is a trailing indicator, it will take a robust economy before the industry experiences sustained growth.

The complete 2009 CEIR Indexwill be released at the Society of Independent Show Organizers CEO Conference, April 11-14, in Austin, Texas. For more information on the CEIR Index, go to www.ceir.org.

Related links

Exhibition Industry Declines 3.1 Percent in 2008

CEIR Index Falls in Third Quarter

Exhibition Industry: Bottom Hit?