“The key to our future is finding innovative ways to help exhibitors,” observed Sam Lippman, co-organizer of the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum, held in May in Washington, D.C. That pretty much captured the main theme at the third annul ECEF — a theme that resonates throughout the troubled exhibition industry.

Lippman and partner Michael Hough, both veterans of the industry and former show organizers, produced a content-rich, ideas-generating, one-day conference for a group of about 110 top-level association and independent show organizers. Topics ranged from outsourcing options, to innovative ways to stay ahead of the market, to case studies about a successful acquisition and about managing show services in-house.

The need to reach out to exhibitors was underscored in a white paper presented by Exhibits Surveys Inc. According to the firm's research of individual shows in the United States across industries, exhibitors on the whole gave exhibitions a poor rating in terms of how well they were able to achieve their objectives relative to time and money invested. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being poor and 5 being excellent, the average value rating by exhibitors was just 2.8.

As corporate marketing budgets get ever-increasing scrutiny, exhibitors are looking for better, more measurable return on investment when it comes to trade shows. Some are branching off and starting their own corporate expositions. Trends like these are driving show managers to consider innovative solutions to longtime challenges, such as lowering exhibitor costs and improving exhibitor service.

Chuck Yuska, president, Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute, described how the group created PACK EXPO Services to handle general contract services for PACK EXPO trade shows. Yuska conceded that the radical move may end up costing the association more in the short term but said the move would pay dividends in exhibitor satisfaction and loyalty down the road.

John Mancini, president of AIIM (the Association for Information and Image Management), offered a riveting case study of why and how the association decided to sell its trade show, and how the association structured its agreement with Advanstar, the buyer, to achieve a long-term partnership that would continue to benefit members, exhibitors, and the association financially over time.

A detailed economic analysis of the pros and cons of outsourcing all or just parts of an exhibition was presented by Tamara Christen, president, National Trade Productions, and Chris Brown, vice president, National Broadcasters Association. A common error when calculating the cost-benefit of outsourcing is not to factor-in senior-level management time that goes into managing trade shows in-house, noted Christen.

Gary Shapiro, president of the, Consumer Electronics Association, producer of one of the country's largest high-tech expositions, made an impassioned plea for the industry to unite in making it less difficult for foreign visitors to obtain visas for entering the United States to participate in trade shows.

“In most industries, the largest international show is not in the U.S. Why should we cede the opportunity to grow the largest international show in our various industries due to difficulty of attendees and exhibitors getting across our borders?” he asked.

In a CEO roundtable wrapping up the conference, Nancy Hasselback, president and CEO of Diversified Business Communications, called drayage, which typically accounts for about 40 percent of an exhibitor's budget, the “pink elephant of our industry.” She also noted that “only in the U.S. are the show management costs borne by the exhibitors.”

ECEF will be held next year at the Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C., on May 19. For more information, visit www.eceforum.com.

IACVB Publishes New Delegate Spending Study

One of the bedrock economic indicators for the convention industry over the years has been average delegate/exhibitor expenditures — data compiled by the International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus in its Convention Income Survey Report, last released in 1998. In July, IACVB released a revamped, expanded report called ExPact, short for “expenditure impact.”

The study is based on surveys of 86 participating bureaus, 12,920 delegates, 1,286 exhibiting companies, and 77 event organizers. Among the key findings:

  • Delegates spend on average $945 per event or $266 per day. The average length of stay is 3.6 nights. The average for delegate spending increased 36 percent from 1998 to 2004, while average length of stay increased 15 percent.

  • Lodging costs account for 77 percent of delegate spending, and food and beverage accounts for 29 percent.

  • Direct spending contributed to the local economy per exhibiting company: $6,753; per event organizer: $454,673

  • Per-delegate spending by association or event organization: $96 per event or $22 per day. Food and beverage remains the largest share of event organizer expenditures.

  • The study found that for the average event, delegates stay in a designated hotel 81 percent of the time.

  • Larger destinations tend to draw larger events and therefore have higher cost-per-delegate and cost-per-event expenditures.

A new product resulting from the study will be an online calculator tool for estimating the direct spending projections for any type of event, says IACVB president/CEO Michael Gehrisch. He adds that ExPact data will be shared with the Convention Industry Council to help with CIC's economic impact study, currently under way.

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