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Chris Jones

Trade Shows Big and Growing

26 April 2006

The $7.6 billion beast is growing.

And as its appetite expands, Las Vegas' convention and trade show industry is swallowing business once held elsewhere, according to a survey being released today.

For the 12th consecutive year, Las Vegas topped the Tradeshow Week 200, an annual listing of the nation's 200 largest business events.

The city last year hosted a survey-record 44 major trade shows.

Las Vegas' previous best was 40 shows in 2001, though that slipped to 35 the following year. The city hosted 38 such events in 2003 and 2004. No other city has hosted more than 40 shows in a year.

Orlando, Fla., ranked second in 2005 with 26 events, followed by Chicago (20), New York (16) and Atlanta (11).

New Orleans slipped from fifth in 2004 to seventh last year, a falloff caused largely by August's Hurricane Katrina.

Ranked by square footage, Las Vegas' nearly 22.6 million tally nearly tripled runner-up Orlando's 7.56 million square feet.

This city's long-standing dominance is easy to explain, said Tradeshow Week Publisher Adam Schaffer, who previewed this year's list.

With the Las Vegas Convention Center, Mandalay Bay Convention Center and Sands Expo and Convention Center, Las Vegas is the only U.S. city with three major convention venues.

Accommodations here are world-class, and widespread air service makes it easy to travel here from cities domestic and abroad, he said.

"Las Vegas remains a phenomenally strong draw," Schaffer said, adding the stigma that once surrounded business events in "Sin City" has all but disappeared.

"The 'wink wink, nod nod' mind-set to doing business in Las Vegas no longer occurs," Schaffer said. "Now it's, 'Oh my God, you have to go to see this show and eat dinner at this restaurant.'"

The convention industry's cyclical nature also padded last year's count: Las Vegas in March welcomed 2005's largest U.S. event, the triennial ConExpo-ConAgg construction trade show.

World Market Center, which debuted in July, did not make the list because Tradeshow Week only counts temporary exhibit space, Schaffer said.

In addition to its three large centers, Las Vegas benefits from numerous small- and midsize venues at hotel-casinos throughout the valley.

Only one of Las Vegas' Tradeshow 200 events -- the Electronic Distribution Show & Conference at Paris Las Vegas -- took place away from the city's Big Three last year.

But major shows such as the International Consumer Electronics Show and the Men's Apparel Guild in California clothing showcase split space between those large venues and the Las Vegas Hilton and Alexis Park.

Such collocation allowed for more exhibitors and attendees than many other cities could have handled, Schaffer said.

MGM Mirage Chairman Terry Lanni, whose company in April 2005 acquired the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in its $7.9 billion purchase of Mandalay Resort Group, on Tuesday credited several developments for Las Vegas' improved performance.

The presence of more high-quality hotel rooms, restaurants and convention venues makes it a more appealing stop, he said, adding new hotels such as Wynn Las Vegas expanded the market.

So has a new management approach at MGM Mirage.

"We've been a lot more aggressive in going after convention business," said Lanni, whose company jointly markets Mandalay Bay's 1.5 million-square-foot center with smaller venues at MGM Grand, Bellagio and The Mirage.

Patti Shock, a professor and chairwoman of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas' tourism and convention administration department, said the city's popularity among business travelers helps overcome its shortcomings.

Many planners Shock works with have told her they hate dealing with Las Vegas.

Complaints, she said, include venues that turn away groups that aren't related to gaming, as well as hotels that refuse to extend convention room blocks into weekends.

"But (the meeting planners') attendees love the city so they have to do business here," Shock said.

The Los Angeles-based Tradeshow Week magazine is widely regarded as its industry's unofficial bible.

Its staff has compiled and ranked the nation's largest business events by attendance and net square footage over the past 31 years.

Gaming Wire writer Howard Stutz contributed to this report.


Tradeshow Week 2005's ranking of the top U.S. trade show hosts

Shows Shows in in 2005 in 2004

1. Las Vegas 44 38

2. Orlando, Fla. 26 18

3. Chicago 20 18

4. New York 16 14

5. Atlanta 11 9

6. Anaheim, Calif. 8 8

7. New Orleans 7 12

8. San Francisco 7 8

9. Dallas 6 8

10. Louisville, Ky. 5 N/A*

*not ranked

Source: Tradeshow Week