oyal EXHIBITOR readers may recall my editorial in last year's January issue. It carried the same headline as this piece, but with a curious little question mark after it. In that editorial, I discussed the results of BtoB's 2010 Outlook report, which contained some hopeful indications that 2010 would prove to be a year of stabilization at worst and regrowth at best. "Only time will tell if the survey results actually represent post-recession realities,"
I wrote. "Until then, most Americans will continue to move forward with two sets of resolutions for the coming year: one rosy and optimistic, another in case of emergency. And, at least for the time being, the ubiquitous 'Happy New Year' greeting will continue to carry a question mark at the end."
Well, a full 12 months have passed, and I feel fairly confident in removing that extra, annoying punctuation mark from my holiday greeting. The new year has plenty of potential to be a happy one for exhibit and event professionals, and the more optimistic among them look back at 2010 not as the year from hell, but as a year full of challenges. Many who overcame those challenges learned important lessons along the way - about cost cutting, budgeting, measurement, and more. Those lessons will serve them well in the future. After all, just because times aren't quite as tough as they once were, that's no reason to revert to bad habits.
Don't get me wrong. Times are still tough enough. Many marketers will have to make do without budgetary boosts. And some in the most unlucky of industry sectors anticipate additional cutbacks, at least in the first half of the year. But for the most part, things do appear to be improving.
Last November, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) announced that data collected for the organization's annual CEIR Index reported positive growth in all four metrics it tracks to gauge the health of business-to-business trade shows: professional attendance, net square feet, the number of exhibiting companies, and show-related revenue.
Additionally, in early 2010, CEIR reported that the leading indicator it predicted would mark the recovery of the exhibition industry was an increase in professional attendance. That metric
began showing improvement in the second quarter of 2010, and continues to lead improvements with a 6.6 percent growth over the same period in 2009. Furthermore, indications from the National Business Travel Association (NBTA) seem to imply that this trend will continue into 2011. While the biggest culprit responsible for diminished show attendance was slashed corporate travel budgets, it appears business travel is well into its recovery, with an estimated 4 percent increase last year alone.
In a recent interview with Business Travel News, NBTA executive director Michael McCormick said, "Business travel within and from the United States has seen solid recovery after two long years of diminution." He notes that companies appear to be taking their time in shifting from the current cost-containment culture, and recovery will continue to ramp up incrementally. But according to NBTA's latest study, U.S.-originating business-travel spending is expected to grow 7 percent in 2011 and 2012. "We're looking forward to the end of 2012, when the industry should see a return to peak levels," McCormick adds.
Still, just as in 2010, only time will tell if this uptick in business travel will mark a return to business as usual with regard to trade show attendance figures. And it's a supposition on my part that an increase in attendance at shows will lead to a loosening of exhibitors' marketing purse strings. But, for the time being, I'm going to look at my New Year's glass of champagne as half full, rather than half empty, and predict a happy, economically healthy new year for our industry - no question mark necessary.e