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CEIR: Ingredients of Good ROI Hold Up in Recessions


Dallas, TX – While attendance and the sale of exhibit space at trade shows may flag during a recession, new research from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) indicates tough times don’t necessarily cool the enthusiasm of trade show professionals with buying plans.

A review of a variety of statistics compiled between 1968 and 2007 by CEIR (and its predecessor, the Trade Show Bureau) showed that long-term trends in such categories as traffic density and the number of buyers actually planning to buy showed little interruption during stretches identified as recessionary periods.

“Exhibitions continue to attract a high-quality audience before, during and after business recessions,” said the report released January 21.

The findings should come as a measure of reassurance for show organizers at a time when the U.S. economic downturn has affected the entire world and raised fears that trade shows are in for a dour 2009. By showing that trade shows did not lose their customer appeal during previous recessions, the potential for high customer ROI will likely remain firm this time around.

2007 Labeled Recessionary

CEIR said the National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc. (NBER), pegged 2007 as a recession along with 2001 and the periods: 1991-1992, 1980-1983, 1974-1978 and 1970-1971. CEIR President and CEO Doug Ducate said that although the NBER determined that economic activity in 2007 actually peaked in December, CEIR had determined that the economy was already downshifting in the Fall.


Exhibitors will likely not have to worry about trade shows turning into tire-kicker events, according to the CEIR research on trends including the quality of the attendees and time spent on the floor visiting exhibits and engaging booth personnel.

  • Average Hours on Exhibit Floor:  Attendees have averaged more than eight hours on the exhibit floor per show every year since 1996, except for 2005. In the recession year 2007, time on the floor was only a few minutes under what it had been in 2004 and 2006. The 2001 recession-year average was nearly nine hours.
  • Traffic Density:  The number of people on the floor in relation to the size of the exhibit floor has remained fairly static since 2000 at roughly 2.25 people per every 100 square feet of paid exhibit space. Traffic density has been on a slow, steady decline since surging to nearly five in 1969. CEIR chalked the trend up to better pre-show planning on the part of attendees who get more done in less time.
  • Audience Interest Factor (AIF):  The AIF refers to attendees spending quality time with exhibitors:  talking with them, picking up literature, etc. The percentage of attendees who say they seriously engaged exhibitors has spiked in recent years and reached a high of 80% in 2007.
  • Ready to Buy:  The percentage of attendees who said they planned to purchase at least one product they saw at a show increased in 2007 to around 56%, up from 52% in 2006. The statistic has been at 50% or above every year since 1972, according to CEIR.
  • Qualified Buyers: The percentage of attendees who have the authority to pull the trigger on deals peaked at 88% in 1995 and then declined sharply before leveling off in 2000 and remaining steady through the 2001 recession and on to 2004. The 2007 recession was down roughly one percentage point from the previous year at more than 82%.
  • First-Time Attendees: The number of first-time attendees slipped in 2007 to just below 35% from around 37% in 2006; however it remained higher than the 2003-2005 period.

It is too early to tell how the trade show industry will fare in 2009. The International Consumer Electronics Show and other January exhibitions reported some anticipated declines in attendance but overall respectable turnouts. CEIR, however, cautioned that corporations were likely to tighten their marketing budgets but also pointed out that “in recent years, exhibitions have been corporate America’s No. 1 marketing expenditure.”

Reach Doug Ducate at (972) 687-9242 or

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