Strolling through the aisles, attendees found that it was anything but business at usual at the Motivation Show in October in Chicago. Despite management's projection that the show would suffer only a 3 percent to 5 percent exhibitor cancellation rate, signs of a deeper attrition rate were apparent, with empty booth spaces and fewer personnel working the exhibits. About a third of the Québec exhibitors who had been scheduled to attend did not make the trip, according to Patrick Guidote, senior manager, corporate & incentive accounts, Tourisme Montréal. Nancy Petitti, show director with Hall-Erickson, estimated a 20 percent reduction in buyers as compared to last year.

Nonetheless, many exhibitors traveled long distances for the annual show, from as far as Asia and the Middle East, and all wore their country's traditional attire for a spectacular opening ceremony. The overwhelming feeling was one of support. At the New York booth, attendees lined up to have their Polaroid picture snapped with a wax figure of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani — the hit of the show floor.

Final attendance numbers were estimated at 35,350. And registered buyers almost equaled 2000 numbers.

“Our 21,868 registered buyers actually are slightly less than the 22,229 buyers who registered for The Motivation Show in 2000,” Nancy Petitti, show director, says. “Due to the circumstances, we estimate that our registered buyers who attended the show were about 20 percent fewer than last year.”

On the Front Lines

“We're seeing business move out of international locations and to U.S.-based resorts,” reported Roger Helms, president and CEO of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based site selection search firm HelmsBriscoe. “California and Florida venues, in particular, have seen an increased demand.” HelmsBriscoe's nationwide network of associates, each of whom averages 10 to 12 meeting planner clients, has seen $10 million in canceled business since September 11. About $4 million of that has been rebooked through the first quarter of next year, according to Helms.

There is evidence that Europe is feeling the pinch as well. “We did a survey of all our members shortly after 9/11,” said Mady Keup, head of the London Convention Bureau. About 20 percent of the members responded, and of those, 75 percent had seen meeting cancellations since 9/11. On a bright note, by the end of the show, she reported receiving one large piece of new business for 2002.

Canada, Mexico, and even Latin America could see an increase in meeting business. Ruth Sokol, promotion/sales director for the Mexico City Convention and Visitors Bureau, said, “We expected a lot of convention cancellations. But I would say that only one in four were outright cancellations. The rest have rescheduled or are postponing. Next year and beyond look good for renewed interest in Mexico City.”

Patrick Guidote, Tourisme Montréal, said that he also has noticed increased interest in Québec and Canada at the show, because the country “feels safe and accessible.”