by Sarah J.F. Braley | November 30, 2009

Five trade show associations have joined forces to form the Exhibit Industry Council to address rising concerns from exhibitors that some long-held practices in the industry are leading to an unsustainable business model.

Representatives from the Healthcare Convention and Exhibitors Association, the Trade Show Exhibitors Asso­ciation, the Corporate Event Marketers Association, Exhibit Designers + Producers Association and the Exhibitor Appointed Contractor Asso­ciation recently met in San Francisco to launch the group. The goal of the new organization, which will meet quarterly, is to develop and promote a set of trade show best practices.

"It has been my feeling for a while that some kind of forum for the exhibitor community would be a good thing," said Eric Allen, executive vice president of the Atlanta-based HCEA. "This is an attempt to see if there are ways we can work together to help solve problems."

The EIC revives the acronym of an earlier, similar entity, the Exhibit Industry Congress, which was overseen by TSEA. That forum, where industry players could get together and share problems and solutions, has been inactive for years.

Issues the new council hopes to tackle include the cost of exhibiting, housing policies, fees for handling materials and a lack of audited attendance information.

For instance, Margit Weis­gal, CME, president and CEO of TSEA in Chicago, pointed to the fact that exhibitors often are required to reserve three nights paid in full, three months in advance, within a show's room block. "It's not fair to the exhibitor," she said. "They can go into any of the web engines and find better rates. Is it time for organizers to consider not depending on that revenue stream any longer?"
Weisgal said she is fully on board with the council even though TSEA recently launched its Advocacy Committee for exhibitors, which is looking at many of the same issues. "Exhibitors, in the end, pay for everything," Weisgal noted. "And there are [show organizers] who take advantage of the exhibitors and whose practices or policies don't care about the exhibitor as a customer. You shouldn't hurt them. You shouldn't take advantage of them. Uniting with other organizations makes sense. By working together we are going to get the farthest."

The nascent industry group will establish one area of concern as its first priority. "We're still formulating our rules of engagement and how we will go about publishing the best practices," said Allen.