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Chris Jones

Report Says Las Vegas Extends Reign as Convention King

30 April 2004

Las Vegas was again named the nation's top convention destination for 2003, extending a remarkable 10-year reign as the industry's No. 1 host market, editors of a respected industry publication said this week.

Since 1974, Tradeshow Week, a Los Angeles-based magazine that monitors the global convention industry, has compiled a list of the nation's largest conventions and trade shows. Its annual Tradeshow Week 200 report, to be published in Friday's edition, also lists the industry's busiest cities as ranked by most large shows hosted, as well as total square footage leased by such shows during the year.

For 2003, Las Vegas again ranked as the industry's dominant market in both categories. Its 38 shows were 11 more than second-place Chicago and 21 better than last year's third-place finisher, Orlando, Fla.

Measured by square footage, Las Vegas' 16.9 million total equated to a 27.4 percent market share of the nation's 200 largest shows. Those figures easily outclassed runner-up Chicago's 8.8 million square feet, or 14.3 percent market share.

Orlando again finished third in that category with 5.2 million square feet, or 8.4 percent of the market share.

Paul Dykstra, whose GES Exposition Services supports some of this city's largest trade shows including the International Consumer Electronics Show and National Association of Broadcasters' annual event, said Wednesday he's not surprised Las Vegas has maintained its top ranking for so long.

"We've seen strengthening in all of our Vegas-based business," said Dykstra, who is president and chief executive officer of GES. "It's got a terrific convention and visitors bureau, three of the (nation's) largest venues and the hotels and infrastructure that really support the convention and trade show business."

That opinion was supported by Patti Shock, who is chairwoman of the tourism and convention department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Shock said Wednesday that conventions held here usually draw more attendees because guests know there's plenty to do outside the trade show hall -- a characteristic that often means less work for show planners.

"Who wants to sit at a banquet room, rubber chicken dinner when they can be out doing Las Vegas?" Shock asked. "Here (show organizers) don't have to plan so many events" to occupy delegates after hours.

Shock added local convention centers' proximity to hotels, restaurants and other attractions makes Las Vegas more appealing than cities where guests must travel great distances from venue to venue, particularly for large, citywide conventions.

Las Vegas is the only city that's home to three of the country's 10 largest convention venues: the 2.3 million-square-foot Las Vegas Convention Center; 1.9 million-square foot Sands Expo and Convention Center adjacent to The Venetian; and the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, a 1.5 million-square-foot center on the south Strip.

While the presence of several large halls allows Las Vegas to maximize its trade show calendar, Shock said she routinely hears from meeting planners who complain that they can't book space in Las Vegas because the city is already too busy.

"We're so busy we can't keep up with all the business we do have," Shock said. "There would be tons and tons more people who'd meet here if they could get in."

To that end, 871,000 square feet of new meeting space is scheduled to open at various sites in town by the end of 2006, bringing the citywide inventory close to 10 million square feet.

Las Vegas also benefited from a rebounding U.S. convention industry. Though the 200 shows last year combined to use 55.6 million square feet, a 0.7 percent decline compared with 2002, more than half were larger than the prior year.

More significantly, professional attendance reached 3.7 million, up 3.4 percent. The industry also reported a 1.2 percent jump in exhibiting companies, which exceeded 180,000. Those gains translated to a combined estimated economic impact of $4.96 billion for the cities hosting the Top 200 shows, up 5.8 percent over 2002's estimated $4.69 billion impact, Tradeshow Week reported.

"The industry has been in a slow-but-steady recovery since late 2002 and we see that trend continuing this year," said Michael Hughes, associate publisher of Tradeshow Week. He credited the recent growth to an improving U.S. economy.

Last year, conventions added an estimated $6.5 billion to the local economy, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. That total included smaller shows as well as those mentioned in the Tradeshow Week 200.

The 2003 International Consumer Electronics Show, held Jan. 8-12 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, was named the year's largest trade show with nearly 1.25 million square feet used. Overall, Las Vegas was host to six of the year's 10 largest events.