"Today, I tell you, nobody's at the bar during sessions," says Evans, a 36-year industry veteran. "These people come to learn something."
Cost-conscious executives leading corporations, trade groups and associations have insisted on accountability and results to squeeze the most out of dwindling travel budgets, Evans says.
And in this, the Information Age, professionals deluged by the latest developments depend on conventions and trade shows to keep abreast of advances in ever more specialized industries.
The medical industry exemplifies the trend toward specialization. generation ago, the granddaddy of medical groups, the American Medical Association, dominated, and splinter groups representing specialties could fit their annual meetings in a two-car garage.
Today, by contrast, more than 600 large associations represent specialties, from cardiology to the Tongue Depressor Manufacturers Association. For orthopedic specialties alone, 17 organizations have emerged.
Technological advances and specialization also have fueled an explosion in the number and size of trade shows -- often bringing together buyers and sellers in industries such as computers, telecommunications and medical equipment.
Exhibit space has grown 5 percent to 8 percent each year since the 1970s, and the trend is expected to continue well into the next century, according to the International Association for Exposition Management.
The biggest shows -- huge high-tech bazaars -- are only growing bigger, as more and more companies look to them as ideal selling tools.
At last fall's Comdex, the nation's largest computer trade show, 2,300 firms filled the Las Vegas Convention Center, unveiling 7,000 new products, and the city set aside 100,000 hotel rooms )) for the more than 200,000 who attended.
Added space is key
The need for bigger exhibition spaces plays no small part in the push for bigger convention centers in cities from coast to coast. Invariably, slick consultants' studies that typically cost taxpayers reach a remarkably consistent conclusion: A given city is forgoing millions of dollars in conventioneers' spending each year because its convention center lacks enough space to accommodate the larger conventions and trade shows. Predictably, in almost every case, a ground-breaking follows within a few years.
As convention centers across the nation expand to keep up with space demands, they've also become much more user-friendly than their boxy, utilitarian predecessors. Staying competitive XTC now means incorporating the latest in multimedia technology, luxurious corridors and common areas, ballrooms, fine dining and exhibit space virtually free of columns.
Of course, no one would suggest a convention center in itself decides where meeting planners book conventions.
Much depends on such factors as how well it's marketed, the inherent appeal of a destination and its attractions, the quality, // size and proximity of hotels and transportation.
But for cities that offer a compelling enough package, industry leaders offer a rosy forecast.
They've heard dire predictions before, like the technological advances such as the Internet, videoconferencing and teleconferencing would make many large gatherings a thing of the past. If anything, believers say, an increasingly impersonal society heightens the need for face-to-face contact.
"Never before have so many people traveled to so many meetings, and they will continue to do that no matter how videoconferencing or teleconferencing goes," says Ed Griffin Jr., chief executive of Meeting Professionals International, a Dallas-based organization of meeting planners.
"The lights, camera, action of a meeting creates an ambience that no satellite or technology will ever emulate. Meetings are here to stay," Griffin says.
Pub Date: 8/18/96