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by Michael C. Lowe | October 01, 2012
The Center for Exhibition Industry Research released its second-quarter index results last month, which showed positive growth for the industry for an eighth consecutive quarter, increasing 2 percent overall compared with the second quarter of 2011. Attendance jumped by 4.3 percent, revenue (adjusted for inflation) increased by 1.5 percent, net square footage was up 1.1 percent and the number of exhibitors rose by 1 percent.

"Seeing that kind of rise in attendance is especially exciting for us, because it's a leading indicator," said Doug Ducate, president and CEO of CEIR. "When attendance goes up, the other three indicators tend to follow." Ducate is very optimistic about the long-term future for exhibitions, though he said the positive second-quarter numbers are in no way indicative of industry strength for the remainder of the year.

The findings were discussed during CEIR's Predict Conference, held at the Time Warner Center in New York City on Sept. 13. The event, now in its second year, drew about 120 attendees, including executive-level personnel from Hanley Wood, Reed Exhibitions and Freeman. "It was valuable for us to hear what was happening in the industry firsthand from analysts and economists," said Kathleen Canning, general manager of the Orange County (Fla.) Convention Center, which was a sponsor of the meeting. "We will be using this research throughout the year and showing it to our board and any other stakeholders." The event examined the outlook for exhibitions across industry sectors, such as government and construction, in addition to broader trends.

Among topics discussed:  "People are being more specific on where they go and how they spend their money," said Ducate. "They want to be among their peer groups and meet people who can help them solve their problems or reach their goals."

That could be hard to accomplish at a 100,000-attendee health-care convention, which has to cater to dermatologists as well as heart surgeons. Ducate believes we might see smaller, more targeted shows, which would be less expensive for organizers.

Predict's participants also discussed the potential for a massive shake-up in the industry further down the road: the possibility that major online players like Google, Amazon or Facebook could begin purchasing exhibition companies and organizing their own in-person programs.

"Those online giants already have the communities and communication channels," Ducate noted. "It would be a very smart thing for them to get into live face-to-face events. It would definitely be a game changer."