Citing a declining attendance and exhibitor presence, the American Hotel & Lodging Association recently decided to can a 90-year-old tradition — the AH&LA's annual spring conference. The federation of state lodging associations, which represents approximately 13,000 property members, last year went into partnership with the Las Vegas Hotel and Restaurant Show, held in June. According to Joe McInerney, AH&LA's president and CEO, “The feedback from sponsors and exhibitors at this year's show was that it was no longer economically feasible” to accommodate them both — not to mention the competition from the more than 80 national and regional meetings that the industry holds each year.

“There's only so many expendable dollars sponsors, exhibitors, and attendees have,” says McInerney of the reasons behind the announcement of the show's demise, which came right on the heels of Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International's cancellation of its 2002 Annual Sales and Marketing Summit in Orlando.

More than 45 percent fewer exhibitors showed up at the April conference, which was held in Philadelphia, than came to the 2001 show; and 38 percent fewer attendees decided to make the trip. Day passes dropped even more dramatically to just 110, which is 63 percent fewer than the year before. Shortly after the 2002 show closed, AH&LA's executive committee decided to cancel next year's annual conference, which was scheduled for April 9 to 10 in Denver.

“We're making everyone whole,” says McInerney, “paying the deposits on the hotel and convention center, and repaying our state association and the CVB for the money they spent. While disappointed, he says the city backed the decision. “Denver didn't want to have a wake, either.”

AH&LA chairman Kirby Payne is assembling a task force that will examine how to restructure the association's other events — including its annual fall conference, which is held in conjunction with the International Hotel/Motel & Restaurant Show, November 8 to 11 in New York City. “Do we have four regional meetings with educational seminars and no trade show? Make Las Vegas or the November meeting the annual conference? There are a lot of things we're going to put on the table,” McInerney explains. “Maybe we had a Cadillac and we were trying to make it into a Rolls Royce, when all we really needed was a Chevy.”