Exhibit space, exhibitors, attendance, and revenues: Each of these key indicators of the exhibition industry’s health dropped in 2008, resulting in the first overall decline for this market since 2002, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research’s 6th annual CEIR Index report.

Overall in 2008, the exhibition industry shrank 3.1 percent, according to the CEIR data, owing largely to a rough second half of the year. In the third and fourth quarters of 2008, the index dropped 6 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively. All four key metrics used to measure the industry’s performance were down in 2008 compared to 2007: Net square feet of exhibit space was down 2 percent; number of exhibitors, 2.6 percent; attendance, 4 percent; and revenue, 3.5 percent.

The CEIR Index measures exhibitions in 11 industry sectors. Here’s a sample of some of their 2008 performances:

  • information technology, up 9.8 percent;
  • raw materials, up 3.4 percent;
  • medical and healthcare, up 1.3 percent;
  • industrial, up 1.1 percent;
  • government, down 3.9 percent;
  • professional business services, down 5.1 percent;
  • transportation, down 5.9 percent;
  • consumer goods, down 7 percent;
  • building and construction, down 9.8 percent.

Despite the 2008 decline, the industry has grown at a compound annual growth rate of 1.8 percent since 2000.

Looking forward, CEIR cites cautiously optimistic projections by leading economists for the second half of 2009 and beyond. Gross domestic product, or GDP, is expected to increase 1.6 percent in the second half of the year, and that is a good sign since the performance of the exhibition industry tends to track GDP, according to CEIR officials.

Sectors to watch, say CEIR analysts, are professional business services, consumer goods, and building and construction. These sectors are "guideposts" for the exhibitions industry. As they go, so goes the overall industry, they say. Of the CEIR metrics, net square feet and number of exhibitors tend to be leading indicators of a recovery, while attendance and revenues are lagging indicators.

Industries positioned for immediate growth are those receiving funds from the federal economic stimulus package. Industries receiving the most are education, healthcare, energy, construction, technology, and infrastructure.

For more information and to purchase the full report, contact Cathy Breden, executive director at CEIR at cbreden@ceir.org or (972) 687-9201.