Comdex: Attendance Down, Security Up - 2

Terrorist attacks and economic woes will have an impact on the Comdex trade show.

Recently, the Computer Event Marketing Association (CEMA) took an informal poll of its 600 members--event management and marketing professionals who frequent IT industry trade shows. The CEMA poll asked whether, in light of the September 11 terrorist attacks, people would be attending fewer shows than normal over the coming months. 50 percent of the respondents said theyd be spending more time in the office and less time on the road.

"Some of this has to do with the fact that many shows have been canceled," says Marilyn Kroner, President of CEMA, and the marketing and communications manager for Benchmark Storage Innovations, a tape backup company based in Boulder, Colorado. "But theyre really going to be doing a lot more Web-based, company sponsored events over the next year."

Some CEMA members may be reluctant to fly following the attacks, and others, after the downturn in the American economy, have had their travel budgets cut. But some have decided to attend fewer trade shows simply because they think the industry in general will be attending fewer trade shows. Why go if youll be reaching a smaller audience than usual?

Even the granddaddy of computer trade shows, Comdex, which takes place later this month in Las Vegas, will have much lower attendance this year. Key3Media Group, the organization that runs the show, is expecting about 150,000 attendees, down 25 percent from last year. "Prior to September 11, we were feeling very optimistic about attendance, tracking a little ahead of last year," says Kim Myhre, president of Key3Media Europe, Middle East, and Africa. "But the week of September 11, registration came to a standstill." And though registration has picked up some since then, many who registered before the attacks will be no-shows.

Kent Kristensen, the president and CEO of Mnet Corporation, a Cleveland company that provides videoconferencing solutions and training, was asked to speak at Comdex, but he eventually declined, and is not attending the show. With fewer people traveling after September 11, his companys products and services have been in greater demand and, thus, he has less time on his hands. But he also feels, after being very disappointed by attendance at the Telecon videoconferencing trade show last week in Anaheim, that Comdex simply isnt worth his while. "Attendance was down 50 percent at Telecon," he says. "That really makes a difference."

Mike Ling, general manager of CyberLink, a Taiwanese company that sells audio and video software, says 50 percent fewer company employees will be attending Comdex this year. "Money has been down in our marketing fund," he says. Even CEMAs Kroner and her Benchmark Storage colleagues have decided to stay home this year. "We normally have two hotel suites at Comdex and we spend the first three and a half days in constant meetings," she says. "Weve decided to pull out of our suites and arent even going this year, because the vast majority of our executive customers arent going to be there."

In past years, Comdex had been held in two locations, the main Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands Hotel, but this year the Sands will not be used. Last years show used over 1 million square feet of floor space, while this years event will likely be limited to 750,000. "Exhibit space is also down," says Myhre. "It was down before September 11. The economy has had a real impact on technology companies."

Of course, a good 150,000 IT industry folks will be flying into Vegas in late November, as many do every year, and Key3Media officials are optimistic that the show will be enjoyable and productive. "Were feeling good about attendance and we still think were going to have a great event," says Myhre. "We have a tremendous keynote lineup this year, and have not had any keynote speaker cancellations." Speakers include Microsofts Bill Gates, Larry Ellison of Oracle, and Jeff Hawkins of Handspring.

The show will be marked, as youd expect, by much greater security. Security officers will be roving the convention center. No bags or laptops will be allowed on the show room floor. And all attendees will be required to carry picture ID with them at all times. The events of September 11 have changed many aspects of American life, and computer trade shows are hardly immune.