Comdex expects attendance dip

Securing a hotel room in Las Vegas during Comdex week has traditionally amounted to an exercise in futility. But this year, vacancy signs are up and rates are down.

Comdex/Fall 2001 organizers at Los Angeles-based Key3Media Group Inc. said they expect attendance a this week’s Comdex to fall from last year’s 200,000 to 150,000 this year. They also expect the number of exhibitors to decline from 2,350 to 2,000 and the square footage of exhibitor space to slide from just over 1 million to 750,000.

Kim Myhre, president of Comdex Worldwide, part of Key3Media Group, attributed the 25 percent drop to the “economic state of the industry, not what happened on Sept. 11.” He said he has seen no major cancellations, and all major keynote speakers are ready to go.

“If the effect of a strong Comdex was to jump-start the IT industry, we’d all be very pleased,” Myhre said, noting that organizers are “doing everything we can to get back to business.”

A random poll of 25 corporate IT managers showed that among the companies that typically send staffers to the Las Vegas Comdex event, most will continue to do so this year.

“Comdex is just too important a show,” said Larry Kinder, executive vice-president and CIO at New York-based Cendant Corp., whose holdings include car rental company Avis Group Holdings Inc., various hotel brands and Galileo International Inc.’s online reservations system. Kinder said his company won’t cut back on its Comdex attendance.

Two companies even indicated that they will increase their presence at Comdex this year. Edward Flynn, CIO at chemical and machinery manufacturer FMC Corp. in Philadelphia, said his company will send two representatives, “which is higher than normal.”

Susan McKay, vice-president of customer and information systems at medical device manufacturer Aircast Inc. in Summit, N.J., said her company will make its first trip to Comdex. “Aircast is a small company, so three of us going to Comdex was a big decision for me,” McKay said. “However, we don’t want to get so busy that we forget about the future.” McKay added that she’s interested in seeing “how the leaders in technology are responding to the changes in the marketplace.”

Some IT managers said their companies will send fewer IT staffers to Comdex, and several indicated that they’re cutting back on travel in general.

“The economic slowdown has been a lot more severe than anybody thought it would have been since Sept. 11,” said Wolly Morin, CIO at New York-based AnnTaylor Stores Corp. Morin said his company typically sends at least one staffer to Comdex, but it won’t this year.

“Money is tight,” said Patrick Wise, vice president of e-commerce at Landstar System Inc., a trucking company in Jacksonville, Fla. “You have to pick and choose what’s important to attend.” He added that his company won’t send anyone to Comdex this year.

Randy Richardson, senior vice president of information services at The Talbots Inc., said the business climate has prompted the Hingham, Mass.-based retailer to scale back on all nonessential travel expenses. “I usually go to Comdex every two or three years, and we usually have a presence most every year,” Richardson said. This year, Talbots won’t.

Mostafa Mehrabani, CIO at TRW Inc., a US$17 billion technology, manufacturing and services company in Cleveland, said his firm will send two to four staffers, about half the number it sent last year, largely due to the economic downturn. Their chief areas of interest will be collaboration tools, wireless technology and handheld devices, he said.

As attendees scope out cutting-edge products, they will find fewer of the newer vendors that have supported the dot-com industry. But large vendors that normally have a major presence at Comdex will continue to do so. Hewlett-Packard Co. spokeswoman Ann Finnie said her company negotiated its floor space and press room a year ago, as most companies do. “We’re not cutting back at all,” she said. “It’s business as usual at Comdex.”

Microsoft Corp. actually plans to increase the number of staffers and support personnel manning Comdex from 300 to 500, company spokesman Corey duBrowa said. “We really want to maximize our one-on-one time with customers at this event,” he said, noting that Microsoft plans to focus on business software more than consumer products and games.

“This goes back to our research that shows that the attendees that go to Comdex represent businesses of many different sizes,” duBrowa said.

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