According to Steven Hacker, president of the International Association of Exhibition Management, the revenue from a well-situated trade show can exceed 50 percent of the annual revenue of an association. And exhibitions have been increasingly important over the past several years: "We leapt into third place in the communications media list preferred by business two years ago," he says. "Only print advertising and sales promotions were more commonly used by companies to promote their products and services." With the recent meltdown in print advertising and a lack of discernable downturn in exhibitions, he says, "my guess is that we’ve already crossed the line, that exhibitions will probably be number one next time the numbers are crunched."

He has noted a trend lately toward difficulties getting visas for exhibitors and visitors from emerging countries like China, the Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Ghana. Even though they may have legitimate business interests at a U.S. trade show, they are prevented from getting visas because, as Hacker says, "the evidence seems to suggest that a lot of people who come here on short-term business visas don’t go back; they use it as a means to gain illegal entry" to the U.S. "Obviously, the events of September 11 have further exacerbated that by adding security concerns to illegal immigration, so chances are that there are going to be some obstacles raised to participation from some of those countries." While he hopes it will be a short-term issue, "it could take a couple of years to shake out."

When asked to predict trade show trends for 2002, he just laughs. "Look ahead a year? Call me next week and we’ll figure out what happened in the past seven days. Right now you have to be nimble and alert, you need to be able to read the developing issues and trust your guts. There’s no book, no marketing plan that’s going to show you the way."