Event industry professionals are hoping that special event production will finally pick up solidly in 2004 after several years of languishing. Nowhere could that optimism be felt more than at The Special Event show, held January 7 to 9 at Mandalay Bay Conference Center in Las Vegas.

Attendance was the biggest indicator that the industry could be on the upswing, with more than 5,000 visitors — the largest crowd for a Special Event show ever — as well as a sold-out exhibition.

The event industry is facing a couple of harsh new realities as far as corporate parties and entertainment go. For one, budgets won't budge. And the bugaboo of tighter-than-ever turnarounds remains. Further, the specter of corporate malfeasance (the poster boy being Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco with his infamous birthday party) has put a chill on corporate event spending — again, with no real end in sight.

Nonetheless, the trade show about special events put on quite a splashy opening night party at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, where nearly 2,000 guests dined in high style and sipped glowing cocktails. Entertainment included high-energy bands, aerialists, and “bad boy” magicians Penn and Teller.

At the show's exhibition, attendees ogled a tabletop competition that redefined the phrase “over the top,” as did some of the winning Gala Awards presentations, the top award for event producers (for a complete list, see meetingsnet.com).

According to Special Events magazine editor Lisa Hurley, the look of events remains luxurious, with shimmery fabrics and ornate patterns. “This rich look helps stretch the decor dollar further,” she says.