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by Michael C. Lowe | January 01, 2011

Last month, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research released a study measuring how the difficulty of securing a visa affects the number of international attendees at U.S.-based trade shows, pegging the lost business at $2.4 billion.

Conducted by Oxford Eco­nomics, The Economic Impact of International Non-Participation in the Exhibition Industry Due to U.S. Visa Issues was based on a nationwide survey, with responses representing 47 U.S.-based events, and the CEIR Exhibition Industry Census.

"The CEIR study is significant because it quantifies the amount of revenue lost by people being denied a visa or people not even applying because of the difficulties and complexities with the process," said Daniel McKinnon, executive vice president with Messe Frankfurt USA. "Everyone understands that there are security issues that nobody wants to jeopardize, but there also are commercial interests involved that need to be addressed."

When asked about their most recent show, organizers said problems with visas accounted for the loss of some 116,000 participants, or 2.5 percent of potential international attendees. That influx in delegates would have resulted in $1.5 billion in business-to-business trade, and $540 million in registration fees and exhibition-space spending. Those delegates would have spent an estimated $295 million, sustaining more than 17,500 jobs directly and generating $750 million in state and federal taxes. Hotels would have collected nearly half of the $295 million in local revenue, while restaurants would have seen $60 million.

"We are not going to keep pace as a nation with the economic growth that is now taking place in areas like China, India and South America unless we reduce the barriers that keep legitimate business travelers out of the United States," said Steven Hacker, president of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events. "If they can't get in here, they will have to go elsewhere to purchase what they need." (For a video Q&A with Hacker, go to mcmag.com/newslinevisa.)

Megan Tanel, vice president, exhibitions and events, of the Milwaukee-based Association of Equipment Manufacturers, noted that some measures can ease the process -- beginning with starting very early. Making sure international delegates know why they are coming, where they are staying and with whom they are meeting also can help facilitate matters, said Tanel, who saw 80 of her 120 would-be delegates from India denied entry for a recent show. "Supplying prospective attendees with a one-page fact sheet is simple and can make the difference," she said.