Despite the projection by show manager Hall-Erickson that The Motivation Show, which includes the Incentive Travel and Meeting Exposition, held October 9 to 11 in Chicago, would suffer only a 3 percent cancellation rate by exhibitors, the show showed signs of deeper attrition.

Buoyed by messages of getting back to business, many travel industry exhibitors traveled long distances for the annual show, from Asia and the Middle East. But empty booth spaces and fewer exhibitor personnel were evidence that the terrorist attacks of 9/11, coupled with a slowing economy, have affected attendance even at meeting industry events. About one-third of the Québec exhibitors who were scheduled to attend IT&ME didn't make the trip, according to Patrick Guidote, senior manager, corporate & incentive accounts, Tourisme Montréal, which still had 20 exhibitors in attendance.

Nancy Petitti, show director, Hall-Erickson, estimated a 20 percent reduction in buyer attendees compared to last year.

Quiet Aisles

In spite of the long distances to travel and the uncertainty of what they would find upon arrival, representatives from the tourist boards of Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Dubai, and Morocco came to the show as scheduled. Their booths had particularly low traffic.

Even Europe is feeling the pinch. “We did a survey of all our members shortly after 9/11,” says Mady Keup, head of the London Convention Bureau. About 20 percent responded, and of those, 75 percent saw meeting cancellations since 9/11; 25 percent said they had not been affected. By the end of the show, however, the LCB reported receiving a least one major new booking.

“It's not surprising that incentive or meeting attendees don't want to leave their families right now,” says Roger Helms, president and CEO of Scottsdale, Ariz. — based site selection search firm HelmsBriscoe, which procures hotel rooms for events the world-over. “We're already seeing business move out of international locations to U.S. — based resorts. California and Florida venues, in particular, have seen an increased demand.” HelmsBriscoe has seen $10 million in canceled business since 9/11. But about $4 million of that has been rebooked, says Helms.

North and South

Other regions that could see an uptick in meetings business are, not surprisingly, the U.S.'s neighbors. Ruth Sokol, promotion/sales director for the Mexico City Convention and Visitors Bureau, says, “We expected a lot of convention cancellations. But I would say only one in four were outright cancellations. We are very lucky.” She is hopeful. “Occupancy is down, but 2002 and beyond look good.”

Guidote of Montréal says that he noticed increased interest in Québec and all of Canada, because it “feels safe and accessible.” He cites its diversity, European feel, and nature/adventure opportunities as reasons for its renewed popularity.