25 Quarters and… Stopping: Consistent Tradeshow Industry Growth Comes to an End

25 Quarters and… Stopping: Consistent Tradeshow Industry Growth Comes to an End

by Michael Hart

You had to figure it was going to end sooner or later: After 25 consecutive quarters, tradeshow industry performance experienced a decline at the end of 2016, according to the most recent CEIR quarterly report.

The year-over-year decline was a modest 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016. The decline in real revenue looks a bit more serious: 1.8 percent less than a year earlier.

Everything ends sooner or later. Still, when you move past the top-line numbers of the CEIR Index report of tradeshow performance, you might start thinking it isn’t just “one of those things.”

For the total year – not just the fourth quarter – growth in the tradeshow industry was modest at best. The 2016 total index grew 1.2 percent over 2015, compared to 3.3-percent growth in 2015 over the year before.

Net square footage growth for the year, at 1.8 percent, wasn’t too bad. However, attendance growth was flat at best.

A year ago, CEIR economist Allen Shaw predicted industry growth in 2016 would amount to 2.4 percent, double the actual result. No economist hits the mark every time, but a couple of other predictions Shaw made a year ago might keep some of us up at night: In April 2016, he predicted growth in 2017 would be 2.7 percent and 3.0 percent in 2018.

“This performance represents the fastest sustained growth in the history of the CEIR index,” Shaw said a year ago.

We’ll have to hustle to make those marks.

What’s the problem?

Look at that year-over-year flat attendance growth.

Then look at the business news beyond the events industry. Retailers that traditionally have a strong brick-and-mortar presence like Macy’s, Penny’s and Sears are closing stores. Others like Target and Walmart are making huge investments in hopes they can lure shoppers back to their stores.

Retailers recognize that today’s consumer is steadily shifting away from onsite experiences to digital transactions.

If the events industry is going to attain the lofty expectations CEIR has for it over the next couple of years, it must convince the prospective attendee that there is more value in a face-to-face experience than a digital one.

NOTE: The 2017 CEIR Index Report reporting 2016’s results will be released in early April.

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. Opinions are his own. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com.

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