Choosing a Trade Show Destination

May 18, 2016
Steve Multer

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Can choice of city improve attendee registration?

For 22 years Las Vegas has been the undisputed heavyweight of trade show towns. Beginning with massive horizontal events like Comex, which started in 1979 and peaked in 2000 with record attendance of 200,000 then closed its doors in 2003, Vegas established a powerful grip in the late 70s as the premiere destination for corporate events. Flexible leaders like CES (176,000 attendees in 2015) and SEMA (145,000 in 2014) have continued to help maintain the desert champion’s belt in high polish for decades. But could a change be in the smoke-filled air?

foam-fingerAccording to Cvent the answer is yes. The Virginia-based management company claims the new top seed is Orlando which boasts numerous consumer events and Mondo players like the International Builders Show which started in 1944 and now draws over 110,000 to the swamps of Central Florida. Coming in at #2 is Chicago, the City of Big Shoulders, which has a handful of larger shows like IHHS, Fabtech, and RSNA but makes up for it with an endless stream of smaller vertical meetings.

Las Vegas Review Journal posted the Cvent measurement to alert their readers and concerned citizens Vegas has slipped to number 3.

Cvent Inc., which monitors 218,000 hotels, resorts and special events venues in 175 countries worldwide with its Cvent Supplier Network database, said Las Vegas slid one place from last year’s rankings. The new ranking is based on data gathered from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2015.” (Learn more at http://www.reviewjournal.com/business/conventions/las-vegas-slips-behind-orlando-chicago-hosting-trade-shows-according-new)

Should Vegans be worried? Probably not. Multiple other metrics still show Sin City comfortably on top.

But what makes a trade show destination popular? Numerous factors weigh into the decision process but the top three are price, price, and price. Number 4 is also price. A distant 5th is availability. Flight price, room price, food price, shipping price, drayage price, and particularly union price all weigh heavily on a show owner’s decision to stay or move on to greener pastures.

In the 2000s Richard Daley struggled to take on the massive Chicago union machine which he felt was preventing trade shows from selecting the Windy City as a top pick. A decade later and Chicago is a lead dog. Why? Friendlier pricing is one reason. But never underestimate the dangers of distraction.

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Yup, Mickey, the trade show is happening right over there. Corn dog?

Following the market downturn of 2008, boards across the globe struggled to prove value to spooked investors who worried their cash was being misspent and companies mismanaged. One of the closest scrutinies went to trade shows and special events which many C-levels viewed as wasteful, unnecessary, old-school, or just plain bad business. They posited that the only reason attendees go to trade shows is to play, not to work. Trade shows didn’t die, but location emerged as a top concern; fun was out, ROI was in.

For a short time those boards wanted nothing to do with places like Las Vegas, Orlando, New York, Anaheim, or San Francisco which provided too many distractions outside the convention center walls. Exhibitors prayed for rain to keep attendees in their booths rather than at Disneyland or the top of the Empire State. Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, and Boston made sense because their halls were further from the city center and family members didn’t tag along for the free hotel room and cheap holiday while mom or dad worked.

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But the economy improved.

I wrote a blog about this very trend in an April 17th, 2016 blog and today the numbers are higher than ever and trade shows are back to where and what makes people happy. The same cVent published a simple guide to choosing your perfect trade show destination and, rather than emphasizing the ability to conduct strong business, their lead paragraph focuses on placing the event somewhere the attendee wants to go.

You have fallen in love with a destination and want to hold your next meeting there. But will attendees love it too? Are there other cities or regions that can suit everyone’s needs even better? With so many wonderful countries, cities and venues to choose from, this selection process can seem like fetching a needle out of a proverbial haystack. The narrowing process, however necessary, can quickly become overwhelming. At the end of the day, you need to find the destination that meets your group dynamics and will promote maximum attendee satisfaction. (Read more at http://www.cvent.com/en/supplier-network/event-planner/chapter-1.shtml)

Cvent is dead-on right. So with truth like that the question becomes will Vegas be back on top in Cvent’s metrics next year? Possibly. But with more events in sheer number than any other place on the planet I wouldn’t count them down and out just yet.

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