Despite the projection by management that The Motivation Show, which includes the Incentive Travel and Meeting Exposition, held October 9 to 11 in Chicago, would suffer only a 3 to 5 percent cancellation rate by exhibitors, it showed signs of a deeper rate of attrition.

Buoyed by messages of getting back to business as normal, many of the exhibitors traveled long distances for the annual show, from as far way as Asia and the Middle East. But empty booth spaces and fewer exhibitor personnel were evidence that the terrorist attacks of 9/11, coupled with a slowing economy, have affected attendance even at meetings-industry events. About one third of the Quebec exhibitors who were scheduled to attend ITME didn’t make the trip, according to Patrick Guidote, senior manager, corporate & incentive accounts, Tourisme Montreal, which still had 20 exhibitors in attendance.

It was the first major travel industry show to take place in the U.S. since September 11, and Chicago and show dignitaries came out to welcome the crowd at the opening on October 9. Later, attendees lined up at the New York City booth to have their Polaroid picture taken with a wax figure of Mayor Rudy Guiliani.

Nancy Petitti, show director,Hall-Erickson, estimated a 20 percent reduction in buyer attendee numbers compared to last year, supporting comments from exhibitors that attendance was lighter than in previous years.

Some Aisles Emptier than Others
Despite the long distances to travel and the uncertainty of what they would find upon arrival, representatives from tourist boards of Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Dubai, and Morocco came to the show as scheduled. Their booths, and the Asia aisles, had particularly light traffic.

Even Europe is feeling the pinch. "We did a survey of all our members shortly after 9/11," said Mady Keup, head of the London Convention Bureau. About 20 percent responded, and of those, 75 percent saw meeting cancellations since 9/11; 25 percent said they had not been affected. But the end of the show, the LCB reported receiving one large piece of new business for 2002.

"It’s not surprising that incentive or meeting attendees don’t want to leave their families right now," said Roger Helms, president and CEO of Scottsdale, AZ—based site selection search firm Helms-Briscoe, which procures hotel rooms for meeting clients holding events the world-over. "We’re already seeing business move out of international locations and to U.S.-based resorts. California and Florida venues, in particular, have seen an increased demand."

Helms-Briscoe, which has a nationwide network of associates, each of whom averages 10 to 12 meeting planner clients, has seen $10 million in cancelled business since 9/11. But about $4 million of that has been rebooked for later this fall and into the first quarter of next year, says Helms.

North and South
Other regions that could see an uptick in meeting business are, not surprisingly, the U.S.’s neighbors. Ruth Sokol, promotion/sales director for the Mexico City Convention and Visitors Bureau, said "we expected a lot of convention cancellations. But I would say only one in four were outright cancellations. The rest have already rescheduled or are postponing. We are very lucky."

She is hopeful for 2002. "Occupancy is down, but 2002 and beyond look good for renewed interest in Mexico City." Before 9/11, Mexico City had already created a "tourism police" force, which includes uniformed officers who are bi-lingual tourism ambassadors, giving visitors information of all kinds, and providing well-needed psychological, as well as law enforcement, protection.

Patrick Guidote, Tourisme Montreal, said that he noticed increased interest in Quebec and all of Canada at the show, because it "feels safe and accessible." He cited its diversity, European feel, and nature/adventure opportunities as reasons for its renewed popularity.