|By Kathy Bergen,
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
April 27, 2006 - Chicago, which
lost its title as trade show king to Las Vegas
in the mid-1990s, suffered a fresh indignity Wednesday when it dropped
to No. 3
in the national ranking for the first time, behind Orlando.
The city hosted 20 of the nation's 200 largest trade shows last year,
than Orlando and 24 fewer than Las Vegas, which set a record, according
Tradeshow Week magazine, whose annual ranking is closely watched as a
of industry trends.
The economic impact of hosting conventions is significant. The biggest
draw 70,000 or more people, filling Chicago's
hotel rooms and restaurants, and generating as much as $100 million in
over the course of a few days.
Last year was the first time Chicago
came in third in both the number of big shows hosted and the amount of
space used at those shows since 1992, the year the trade journal
tracking exhibit space. "Chicago
was the top city for many, many years, and it's still a top city, but
time, the competitive landscape has changed," said Adam Schaffer,
publisher of the trade journal.
traditional attraction to conventioneers and exhibitors has been its
location, massive McCormick
exhibition space and big-city hotels, restaurants, shopping and
lures were even enough to make many overlook the sometimes miserable
But Sun Belt playgrounds Las Vegas and Orlando each
least doubled their exhibition space in recent years, and have marketed
spaces aggressively to trade shows seeking to revitalize themselves as
nation pulled out of the post-Sept. 11 downturn.
They offer attractions Chicago
"simply doesn't have," Schaffer said. "In Orlando, the theme parks continue to
be a big
draw, they simply do," he said.
And in Las Vegas, which has three major
exhibition centers and 130,000 hotel rooms, "the Sin City
stigma is largely gone," he said. "Vegas has become a world-class
city--you can see great shows, have a great dinner, do a lot of things
a lot of fun."
No. 4 New York also poses an increasing competitive threat because it
proposed doubling the size of its Javits Center,
which has less
than half the exhibit space of McCormick.
convention officials said it's a mistake to judge the performance of
based on a single measurement in a single year.
"It's too narrow of a measurement," said Leticia Peralta Davis, chief
executive officer of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority,
and operates McCormick
"It's a snapshot of a single aspect of our business.
"We are in the middle of a banner year, and records continue to be
by a substantial number of our customers, in terms of attendance,
conducted and exhibits being sold," she said.
show bookings run in cycles, generally with greater numbers of shows
into the city in even-numbered years, officials noted.
For 2006, "we expect to be back in second, if not first," said Tim
Roby, the new president of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau,
books business into McCormick
"very easily could flip back to No. 2," acknowledged Schaffer, of
Tradeshow Week. Chicago trade shows
"continue to drive a lot of revenue for the region ... and Chicago should
panicked, by any means."
But Las Vegas
pretty much has a lock on the top spot for the foreseeable future.
"You almost have to take Vegas out of the equation," he said.
"It's almost a nation unto itself."
grabbed 34 percent of the exhibit space generated by the top 200 shows
compared with a 16.4 percent share in 1992. In contrast, Chicago had a
9.6 percent share last year,
compared with 17.5 percent in 1992.
Over the years, Chicago has seen a
significant shows migrate to Las
most recently the 2007 convention of the National Association of
the National Hardware Show.
The ranking comes at a difficult juncture for the city. The convention
has been struggling with numerous staff departures and poor morale, and
faces a rebuilding challenge.
continues to be viewed as a city where
labor union work rules make it more difficult and expensive to operate
space than in states like Nevada and Florida.
To some extent, that notion is outdated, given a new labor pact
last year, said Schaffer.
"Trade shows are booked many years out, so it will take a little time
the benefit of the accords to have an impact on bookings," said
Still, a number of trade shows feel the labor concessions did not go
Some mainstays, including the National Restaurant Association show,
weigh moves to Las Vegas or Orlando.
The trade show business, like the travel business, took a dive after
of travel coupled with the economic downturn led companies to trim
budgets. Advances in technology made it easier to display products in
booths and with fewer staff.
"With plasma screens and direct Internet connections to the office,
companies don't need to haul in lots of equipment," noted Ted Mandigo,
Elmhurst-based hotel consultant who follows the trade show industry.
With its $882 million West Building addition due to open in July 2007, Chicago will be
take advantage of the shift, Mandigo said.
"There will be more technology built in, and trade show people will
that attractive," he said. And the spaces will be more finished and
formal, a better fit for smaller meetings.
The city already has booked 40 events into the building, which is
attract meetings with associated exhibits rather than big trade shows,
Chicago no longer can rely on the
sheer size of
its facility to attract shows, noted Heywood Sanders, professor of
administration at the University
of Texas at San Antonio.
"It can't change the market environment, but it's important to begin to
ask, `Are there niches and appeals that Chicago
is in a position to capitalize on?'" he said.
And Schaffer advises the city to sell itself on its own strengths.
"It's a great location, with tremendous air (connections)," he said.
"It's considered by many to be the best restaurant city in the U.S.
It has a
lot of culture and shopping, a great convention center and good hotels.
itself to Orlando or Vegas."
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