At the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum, held last spring in Washington, D.C., two trade show experts — Skip Cox, president and CEO of Exhibit Surveys, Red Bank, N.J., and Michael Hughes, associate publisher and director of research services with Tradeshow Week, Scottsdale, Ariz. — took a look at how some of the industry mega-trends could play out. Or not. Here's some of what they had to say.

Trend: Competitive Landscape Changes

The qualitative value of experiential marketing will increase the percentage of companies' marketing budgets invested in exhibitions.

Hughes: I'll buy that. The balance has shifted, and companies are spending more on events. According to an American Business Media report, B2B companies spent more in 2006 on face-to-face events than on publications. Events also are becoming more integrated with overall messaging and branding. Tradeshow Week research shows that 63 percent of exhibitors were integrating events with other [marketing/communications] activities, compared to 41 percent in 2004 and 29 percent in 2003.

However, there has been a deceleration in attendance numbers. We find this industry to be cyclical, though, and we're now in the part of the cycle where we see net square footage growing more than attendance.

Cox: The biggest thing we can do for expositions is to quantifiably measure them.

Hughes: Measuring return on investment is expensive, it takes time, and some of it just isn't quantifiable. Not that it can't be done, but people aren't doing it robustly.

Cox: The increased involvement of procurement [in marketing spend decisions] and the need to “prove it or lose it” is driving more companies to measure trade show performance. We're good at talking about demographics and buying power. Now we need to substantiate the results.

Trend: Exhibitors Investing in Corporate Events

By 2012, Fortune 1,000 companies will invest more of their event budgets in standalone corporate meetings than in exhibitions.

Cox: Trade shows are strong, and they're growing, so I don't buy this one. Standalone corporate meetings do represent a threat in the longer term, but I don't think this will happen in five years, and I don't think it will proliferate in all industries. Corporate events do deliver high visitor value, but you'd expect them to because the majority of attendees are already customers, where exhibitions offer more potential customers.

Hughes: Corporate meetings are the most cyclical part of this industry. While Tradeshow Week research shows 22 percent of exhibitors increasing their spending on corporate events, compared to 15 percent increasing trade show spending, that's because the economy is booming and corporations are adding more sales meetings and customer events. Corporate events are not a threat, but they are something to watch.

Trend: Changing Demographic Effects

By 2017, Gens X and Y will do most of their learning, and their buying, virtually, not face to face.

Hughes: I don't think it makes sense to think of Internet versus shows. There isn't a lot of buying going on at shows. Attendees are fact-finding and data-gathering. The core strength of events is to see the people behind the products and compare them to the competition.

Cox: I buy that they will be doing their e-learning online, but not that they will do most of their purchasing there. Remember that the numbers in studies include all retail purchases, not just B2B. E-commerce is growing, but purchasing isn't the only reason people attend a show.

E-learning is a threat to conference education. We need to make our conferences competitive by producing highly focused vertical conferences; integrating personal technology in learning; and providing varied, shorter, fast-paced, interactive formats.

Trend: The China Threat

By 2017, venues in China will host approximately 35 percent of the most important global exhibitions (at the expense of the United States).

Cox: Thirty-five percent by 2017 is unlikely, but when the Chinese infrastructure and economy hit their stride, by 2025, 2030? Maybe. They will add globally prominent shows, but not at the expense of competing global shows, and exhibitions will remain regional. China's trade show growth shouldn't be at U.S. expense, because our economy also will continue to grow, albeit more slowly.

Hughes: There is so much that is unknown these days — who knows what will happen with China? Thirty-eight percent of show producers want to organize shows outside the U.S. and Canada over the next five years, but only about 6 percent to 8 percent really have robust overseas shows at this point.

If you're looking overseas as a tonic for a soft market here, don't. Do it only from a place of strength.