A couple of things that I’ve seen or heard about in the last couple of weeks have led me to believe show organizers are either getting a little help or helping themselves when it comes to building attendance… But there’s one more thing that might set all of that back.
The good things: It’s clear that show organizers’ venue and bureau “partners” (as everybody loves to call them when they give us what they want) are feeling the heat.
About a week and a half ago, we reported that the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority voted to explore privatizing the Philadelphia center. Nothing controversial in that; it’s happening all the time now.
What was interesting was a quote we had from PCCA Chairman Gregory J. Fox who said he was “particularly concerned” about lagging bookings in the years to come. “We need to look to the future and fulfill the economic promise of the newly expanded center.”
In other words, I think he was saying, “We spent almost $800 million to expand this convention center two years ago and somebody better put some bodies into it.”
If you can’t read the coded message Fox is sending to show organizers, it’s something like this: Now might be a good time to think about taking your event to Philadelphia.
Then on Friday I was talking to a bureau convention sales director who told me that these days the four-letter word in her lexicon is “free.” “Everybody wants something,” she says, referring to show organizers and convention planners who know how hard it is to make their events affordable for attendees unless they can find a way to save some money.
Without free stuff, without good deals on space, it’s harder all the time to find the magic number that will allow the potential attendee to say yes to registering for your event. And it sounds like show managers are starting to get some of that free stuff.
Which doesn’t make the news about the impending merger of American Airlines and US Airways easy to take. It’s hard to see how this can be good news for the tradeshow industry. And it’s hard to see how anybody can’t be frustrated by it—since it seems like there’s little anybody can do about it.
Despite assurances in press releases that the merged airline will not cut flights (even if you believe them), any suggestion that they won’t be raising airfares is notable by its absence. When we have four mega-airlines flying 70 percent of the country’s passengers around, do you really think it’s going to get any easier for companies to justify sending their people to tradeshows and events?
So, show managers: Consider this two small steps forward and one big step back.
Michael Hart is executive editor of Expo Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.