The exhibition industry suffered big declines in the first quarter of 2009, dropping 11.6 percent compared to the first quarter of 2008, according to the CEIR Index, published by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. It is the biggest single quarter decline since CEIR started tracking data in 2000.

Revenues were hardest hit, dropping 19.7 percent for the quarter. Net square footage of exhibit space used fell 14.8 percent in the first quarter, while the number of exhibiting companies was down 10.4 percent. Attendance fared well compare to the other metrics, falling only 1.5 percent.

“Year-over-year contraction of the exhibition industry is directly linked to the continuing recession,” according to the report. Declines are expected in the second quarter as well, but with an economic recovery predicted for the second half of 2009, the industry could be heading north by the end of the year.