Is bigger really better?

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The confluence of reading this Washington Post article, Rich Westerfield's post on the TSMI blog, and getting a press release from NYC & Company, New York’s CVB, that new legislation has been introduced to "expand [Jacob K. Javits Convention Center] and allow New York to win a greater share of the multi-billion dollar meetings and convention market" has got me thinking about size as it relates to trade shows, and convention centers.

The push in recent years on both ends is that bigger is better, and that if you don't grow, you die. For example, the NYC press release says that

    "The city is losing nearly $1 million every day in direct visitor spending because the Javits Center is not large enough or properly designed to accommodate the many trade shows, conventions and meetings that want to host events in our city. We cannot afford to delay any longer."

According to its Web site, "projected data indicates that over 900,000 room nights for potential Javits attendees will have to be turned away over the next several years due to the lack of available exhibition space." (The source of this data is NYC & Co., which would seem to have a vested interest in this legislation going through, being the CVB and all.)

To be fair, it also cites data from PriceWaterhouseCoopers that the expansion would bring $700 million more per year to the city—which I’m sure it could, if it sold out every day. I dunno, I’m sure far greater minds than mine have gone over the numbers and figured that the benefits outweigh the costs…but, as the Post article points out, with trade shows at best at a plateau phase, generally speaking, and so much competition from Chicago, New Orleans, Las Vegas, et al--not to mention all those other new and expanded facilities coming online--is it really worth the cost and disruption to meetings already on the books at this point in time?

I don’t want to pick on New York--this is going on everywhere. Even close to home: The exhibition business was pretty rosy when Boston committed to building its new center, but by the time the opening came around, they had to shift gears to deal with the new reality of trying to book several smaller shows instead of one giant event at a time. Maybe I’m taking Comdex going belly-up a little too seriously, but seems to me that there just aren’t enough monster shows to go around and fill all this new space.

For some reason, the new(ish) Denver airport just flashed into my mind--I lived in Boulder at the time when replacing the perfectly serviceable Stapleton with a smaller, further-from-the-city airport was a very hot topic of discussion. Pretty much everyone I knew thought that it not only was unnecessary, but actually was a big ole boondoggle aimed to boost the construction industry during a recession. All these new and expanding convention centers are a totally different thing, of course...

What do you think: Is bigger always better when it comes to convention centers in today’s economy and meeting market? Is the tradeshow market growing fast enough to fill all the new space as all these cities hope, or will these centers be dinosaurs before they’re even built? Are the days of the mega-trade shows over, with success going more toward smaller, more vertical shows? (Pick a question, any question, and tell me what you think. We are definitely living in interesting times.)

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