Convention center occupancy grew 2 percent from 2005 to 2006, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers annual survey of North American convention centers. On average, the occupancy rate for the period was 38 percent.

“The two percent increase is pretty consistent with what we’ve seen in the industry historically,” says Robert Canton, director at PWCs Hospitality and Leisure practice. However, it’s down significantly from the previous year when occupancy (occupied square feet of convention center exhibit space) increased 16 percent.

While occupancy grew 2 percent overall, smaller centers greatly outpaced larger ones. The smallest centers (less than 100,000 square feet of exhibit space) experienced a 17 percent increase in demand, and mid-sized venues (100,000 to 500,000 square feet) jumped 6 percent, but occupancy at the largest centers (over 500,000 square feet) remained flat. The previous year, however, large centers typically saw a 19 percent increase in occupancy.

While Canton says that 60 percent of the centers that responded to both the 2000 and 2006 surveys say they are generating demand at or above pre-September 11, 2001 levels, the industry’s overall occupancy rate is still below 2000 levels. The largest centers are doing better than the smaller ones, with the occupancy rates this year at 44.4 percent, up from 43.9 percent the previous year. In contrast, the occupancy rate in large centers was around 50 percent in 2000, states Canton.

The survey also showed attendance at conventions and trade shows increased 3.2 percent from 2005 to 2006. The largest centers had the strongest attendance growth with nearly a 9 percent increase over the prior year.