Attendance may have been down at the 2009 Motivation Show, held September 29 to October 1 in Chicago, but for those who walked the aisles, there was still business to do, including building and maintaining relationships.

Mo Show registration came in at 9,131, a 13 percent decline from 2008. Final attendance numbers are due November 1.

Ken Juel, manager, rewards and recognition, for TD Ameritrade in Omaha, Neb., said he attends the show to learn about new hotels, gather information on destinations that are on his company’s radar screen for future programs, and connect with business partners and peers. His experience this year was “mixed,” he says. “I was disappointed in the reduced number of exhibitors—it seems to me that this year more than ever they would need to get out there. On the up side, I had a pop-up need for a DMC, and I was able to literally walk to them and source it on the spot.” Juel may be in the minority of financial meeting planners, having added two incentive travel programs in 2009, both geared toward customer service representatives.

On the exhibitor side, participants remarked on the quieter aisles but the quality of the attendees. They also reported some optimism among planners. Says Grant Snider, president, JPdL Destination Management in Toronto, “In the words of one insurance meeting planner I was speaking with recently: ‘We’re back in the meetings business.’ I think things will start to pick up.”

At the Posadas/Fiesta Americana booth, Marian Gardiner reports that there was “a good, steady flow of insurance and financial clients despite the lower number of attendees.

“I have been attending this show for the past six years,” adds Gardiner, director of group sales, insurance, Fiesta Americana/Caesar Park Hotels & Resorts, Hollywood, Md., “because it seems that each year the number of insurance and financial meeting planners continues to grow. Also, there are a number of planners, especially in the Midwest area, who attend this show and not the FICP Annual Conference.”

Looking ahead, she’s optimistic for meetings and incentive programs. “The clients I spoke to who postponed or canceled a lot of their incentive programs for 2009 are moving those programs in 2010 back to hotels where they had contracts in place,” she says. “A lot of the companies are analyzing the number of incentive programs they hold and considering combining them or giving the programs more of a business format. We are probably still a few months away from seeing the business pick up, but we are making progress. I am confident that it will come back.”

Gardiner and Darlene Catan, partners in the Insurance Meeting Network, have hosted a dinner at The Motivation Show for the past six years with their roster of independent hotels and vendors. “This dinner has become an institution that our planners look forward to attending each year,” says Catan, who also represents Ovation Global Destination Management Group in the U.S. insurance market. “It provides all of us an opportunity to relax after a busy day and have quality time to strengthen relationships with our FICP partners.”

For the 2010 Motivation Show, Managing Director Pete Erickson has announced some big changes. A dedicated Education Day is planned for Tuesday, October 12, while the exhibit halls will be open for the two days following the Education Day—from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on October 13 and 14. According to Erickson, the changes were made so that fewer educational sessions would conflict with exhibit hours, and the show would be able to attract more new attendees. The new schedule also lops off one day of exhibit hours, thereby reducing costs for exhibitors. Finally, The Motivation Show moves into a new venue next year: from McCormick Place South to McCormick Place West, a state-of-the-art facility with more than 60 meeting rooms with Wi-Fi capability.