ccording to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research's fifth annual CEIR Index, "the exhibition industry continues to be healthy, vibrant, and growing." In fact, for the fourth consecutive year, the index reports growth in all four metrics - net square feet (NSF), revenue, attendees, and exhibitors - used to measure the industry's overall performance.
But despite the optimism of industry growth, the index also suggests momentum may be decelerating. While growth in the industry continued in 2007 at a rate of 3.2 percent over 2006 levels (a number that compares favorably when matched against the 2.2-percent growth rate of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product during the same time span), the rate of growth slowed in 2007 compared to growth rates of 5.3 percent, 5.8 percent, and 4.8 percent in 2004, 2005, and 2006, respectively.
The culprit is quite clearly the fourth quarter of 2007, since the first three quarters of the year saw positive growth for the overall exhibition industry of 3.5 percent over the same period in 2006. However, the exhibition industry softened a bit in the fourth quarter of 2007, declining 1.9 percent vs. 2006 levels. Three of the four key industry metrics decreased during the period as well, including NSF (-3 percent), exhibitors (-3.6 percent), and revenue (-1.6 percent). Attendance, however, grew nearly 1 percent in the fourth quarter.
One possible explanation for the fourth-quarter decline (and an anticipated first-quarter decline in 2008) is the construction slowdown in response to the lackluster housing market, as a number of building and construction exhibitions are held during the winter months of the fourth and first quarters. However, the index remains optimistic, stating that "the unprecedented steps being taken by the federal government to stimulate economic growth in 2008 are beginning to have a positive impact at the time of this writing." The report goes on to cite a forecasted GDP growth of 1.8 percent in 2008, which, while weaker than previous years, still indicates a growing economy overall. Ultimately, the report forecasts a "very promising" long-term outlook, noting that the exhibition industry has historically rebounded well following economic downturns.
When it comes to individual industry sectors, all except the Building, Construction, Home, and Repair sector grew in 2007. Reporting record-breaking numbers for three of the four individual metrics (NSF, exhibitors, and revenue), the Government, Public, and Nonprofit Services sector posted the highest year-over-year total-show performance (TSP) increase in 2007 at 12.6 percent. (TSP is an average of the four individual metrics.) That increase was led by a staggering 17.3-percent increase in revenue, as all of the nearly 1,200 government shows surveyed reported gains in revenue for the year, with 71 percent of them showing double-digit percentage growth, led by events focused on defense contractors.
The following survey excerpts represent a broad analysis of the exhibition industry, as well as insights into each of the 11 individual industry sectors. Use this information to see how your industry stacks up and whether it's leading industry growth or still lagging behind. The full 65-page 2008 CEIR Index is available through CEIR's Web site, www.ceir.org.