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Benjamin Spillman

LV still a great place to show

1 May 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – In a place where luck was worth $6.7 billion last year the number 13 is hardly a good omen -- except when it comes to trade shows and conventions.

That's how many years Las Vegas has been the top American trade show destination, according to an annual ranking published Monday.

Sin City hosted 45 of America's top 200 trade shows in 2006, more shows than the combined total of Orlando, Fla., and Chicago, the next two places on the list.

"Vegas continues to rock everybody's world," said Adam Schaffer, publisher of Tradeshow Week, the magazine that publishes the annual list. "We expect that to hold for a very long time given the vast lead in market share they have."

In 2006 alone trade shows attendees spent more than $8.1 billion in Las Vegas, and that doesn't include gambling losses. That's more than the $6.7 billion Strip casinos won from gamblers during the same year.

The economic impact figure doesn't include union-level wages workers earn setting up and tearing down shows. Las Vegas' largest show, the International Consumer Electronics Show, required as many as 2,100 union workers during peak set-up times.

"Everybody would like to have one of those Tradeshow Week 200 shows in their facility," said Chris Meyer, vice president of convention center sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Las Vegas hosted six of the top 10 shows in 2006. Orlando and Chicago hosted two each.

The Las Vegas Convention Center is one of three Las Vegas venues among the top 10 trade show hosts in the country. The Sands Expo and Convention Center at The Venetian and Mandalay Bay Convention Center are the others.

New York; Atlanta; Dallas; San Francisco; Anaheim, Calif.; Los Angeles; Rosemont, Ill.; and San Diego followed Las Vegas, Orlando, Fla.; and Chicago in most Tradeshow Week 200 events for the year.

When ranked by amount of square footage leased the list reads: Las Vegas; Chicago; Orlando, Fla.; Atlanta; New York; Louisville, Ky.; Dallas; Anaheim, Calif.; Los Angeles; and San Francisco.

The January Las Vegas market for professional furniture buyers and sellers at the World Market Center downtown made the Tradeshow 200 list at 41, the highest point on the list for a first-time event. The July Las Vegas market ranked 26. New Orleans, which lost two trade shows in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, was one of five cities that hosted three top 200 shows. The fall Jewelry Merchandise Fair fell off the Tradeshow Week 200 after the 2005 cancellation and hasn't recovered.

Few communities on the list rival Las Vegas for available space, hotel rooms and air access, key ingredients for a trade show destination.

"It is a convention town," said Chuck Schwartz, chairman of the Henderson-based firm ConvExx, which produces the Specialty Equipment Market Association car parts convention, which draws about 120,000 delegates. "Everybody is dialed into conventions and trade shows and don't give you a dumb look when you say you are a trade show-goer."

The show, called SEMA for short, was No. 9 on the top 200 with nearly 1.1 million net square feet of leased space.

Schwartz said the amount of space SEMA and shows like it require make it hard for other communities to lure events away from Las Vegas, even in the ultra competitive trade show venue market.

"We don't fit many places anymore," Schwartz said. "The only other city that could come close would be Orlando. And there is no comparison."

Although Las Vegas appears to have locked up honors as America's top trade show destination, there are disputes among local players.

The most prominent is between operators of the privately run Sands Expo and the publicly run Las Vegas Convention Center, operated by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

During a recent interview, Bill Weidner, president and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns the Sands Expo center and The Venetian, reiterated long-held criticism of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Weidner said the convention center, which is subsidized by room taxes at hotels, undercuts private operations such as the Sands Expo.

The Sands Expo center, Weidner said, has about 20 percent less space than the Las Vegas Convention Center but charged $68.7 million in fiscal year 2006 to the authority's $48.4 million.

"Our occupancy would be much higher if we weren't competing with their subsidized rates," Weidner said.

Schaffer acknowledged that private hotel convention operators face a unique challenge in Las Vegas in that room taxes paid by their guests subsidize a convention center that competes with the resorts for trade shows.

"It is a different dynamic than you see in many cities," he said. "I think Mr. Weidner may very well have a good point."

But he also said it is common for publicly run agencies to charge low rates for exhibition space because their aim is to attract business to the community, primarily in the form of hotel guests.

In Las Vegas, for example, each trade show guest is worth about $1,600 in nongaming economic impact, more than twice as much as a tourist.

"That is largely considered to be OK because of the tremendous economic impact," Schaffer said of subsidized exhibition rates.