Allen Konopacki, aconsultant, convention industry researcher, and president of the INCOMM Center for Research and Sales Training in Chicago, has seen the industry rebound from recessions and depressions, hurricanes, and even wars. In late September, he gave us his take on today's uncertain meeting scene.
TM: Do you believe the meeting and hospitality industries will bounce back from the terrorist attacks of 9/11?
AK: We're beginning to see the pendulum swing. People I talked to a week ago [the week after the attacks] said we couldn't possibly go to a convention. Two weeks later, many of these people were beginning to think about getting back on track. The PRINT 2001 show was in Chicago at the time of the terrorist action. The show went to silence, as you would expect, similar to what we saw at the time of Desert Storm. But the next day, business continued. Not at the same level, but it continued. And not in the same way, not writing orders, but discussions that were at a very different level than might have taken place before. People creating business relationships.
TM: Are you saying this will bring people closer together?
AK: Absolutely. This is a time when people need to bond together — and that's what a convention does, brings people together. We want to talk about how this is going to impact our business, and you can't do that via the Internet or through videoconferencing as well as you can by being together.
TM: We have never been through this kind of tragedy before.
AK: You're right. This is a first-time experience for a lot of people. We first have to overcome the psychological burden of understanding, of learning how to cope with it. People are afraid of flying, but they have to realize that the system as it was did work. The weapons used just weren't considered weapons then. Now they are. There's a whole new set of security now. Terrorists may have changed our security at airports, but we still have to fly.
TM: What about the impact on trade shows?
AK: The loss to the industry, I'd guesstimate, was somewhere in the range of $1.5 billion, based on annual dollars the convention industry generates. When I take a look at why shows have canceled, it was mostly driven by exhibitors. There was a snowball effect. What they don't realize is that fewer people at the exhibition just means they'll have perhaps a few less browsers. The ones who do come will be the serious buyers. You have to look at what attendees of major meetings are saying: Don't cancel, postpone, and reschedule. They're saying: The meetings may be smaller, but the meetings will be more important.