The Exhibition Industry posted its fourth straight year of growth in 2006, with all the major metrics pushing past pre-2001 levels, according to the 2007 edition of the CEIR Index, an annual measure of industry performance developed by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research.

The industry grew 4.8 percent in 2006, slightly less than the 5.8 percent growth in 2005. Since 2000, the industry has grown an average of 2.3 percent annually.

The overall growth rate is determined by compiling data in four key areas: net square footage of exhibit space, attendance, revenues, and number of exhibitors.

Revenues jumped the highest in 2006, increasing 9.7 percent to an index score of 116.3. The index is based on a base value of 100 in the base year of 2000. Revenues jumped above the year 2000 base level for the first time in 2005, going from 97.2 to 106.1. Revenues have trailed the other metrics over the years, but they are catching up to the strength of the other metrics, explains Doug Ducate, president and chief executive officer of CEIR. Because exhibitors and exhibit space metrics surpassed 2000 levels several years ago (2004), organizers have become more comfortable raising exhibit-space costs, which has boosted revenues. Also, sponsorships and marketing expenditures are up as buyers gain confidence in the recovery and have more discretionary dollars to spend, says Ducate.

Attendance was also strong in 2006, jumping 4.8 percent to 109.8. Attendance rates have been above 2000 levels since 2004 and have increased 1.6 percent since then on a compound annual basis. Attendance numbers are “where we always hoped they would be,” says Ducate — following the decline after September 11, 2001. “Our feeling about it is, exhibitions are the last bastion of face-to-face marketing,” he says. “It's hard to imagine a time when face-to-face is not part of the business-to-business environment.”

Net square footage of exhibit space gained 3.8 percent in 2006 to 123.5, while number of exhibitors increased 1.3 percent to 109.6. Since 2000, net square footage has grown by an average of 3.6 percent, while the number of exhibitors metric has grown 1.5 percent annually.

The CEIR Index analyzes data from more than 300 meetings across 11 business sectors. The building and construction sector grew the fastest in 2006, increasing 9.2 percent. This sector has the highest score in the CEIR Index at 137.5.

The food sector was the second-highest gainer in 2006, growing 7.4 percent to push the sector past 2000 levels with a CEIR Index score of 101.6. Communications and information technology grew a healthy 3.4 percent, but overall, the sector is performing well below 2000 levels, with a CEIR Index score of 83.3. It is one of only two sectors, along with consumer goods/retail trade, which are lagging 2000 performance. Consumer goods/retail trade was also the only sector that didn't show overall growth in 2006, remaining flat for the year with a CEIR Index score of 95.6.

With a $1 million grant from the World Shoe Association, CEIR is looking to expand the index with additional content and analysis. It is also, in the near future, planning to report on index returns on a quarterly basis.

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