Attendance up for exhibitors' convention, and that's a good thing

It’s almost as if they have a crystal ball.

Exhibitor 2013 was held at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in mid-March as the show celebrated its 25th year in Las Vegas. It attracted 5,800 attendees and 296 exhibitors hailing from 60 countries.

“It went fabulously well. Everything was up 20 percent, including the square footage and the attendance. We’re excited,” spokesman Wayne Dunham said.

That is good news for the rest of the convention industry, and here’s why.

“When our attendance goes down, it goes down globally for the trade show industry,” Dunham said.

At Exhibitor, the attendees are exhibitors, so if they have money to attend, chances are the industry is on the upswing.

In 2012, 4.9 million people attended conventions in Las Vegas, a 1.6 percent increase from 2011’s total. Of the shows held, the greatest number of people — more than 2 million — attended small conventions of 500 people or fewer, according to data from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Last year, 21,615 shows came to Las Vegas, a 13.6 percent uptick from 2011’s total of 19,029, which also is a result of the influx of smaller shows to the destination.

“We think that the future for Las Vegas is very bright for the trade show industry,” Dunham said.

But although convention attendance is on the rise, it’s not quite back to pre-recession levels. According to the travel board, 2006 had the largest number of convention attendees ever, with 6.3 million people traveling to Las Vegas to attend the 23,825 shows held that year.

As for Exhibitor, Dunham said he doesn’t see any reason the show won’t be in Las Vegas for another 25 years.

Other than food prices —which Dunham said have risen greatly in recent years — the show is happy with the city. Not only has it survived here, but it has thrived here. Exhibitor is now on the 50 Fastest Growing Shows list compiled by Trade Show Executive Magazine and rated as the No. 1 Buying Show in America by Exhibit Surveys Inc.

“We started at Treasure Island, and as the show grew moved first to Bally’s then to The Venetian and finally to Mandalay Bay,” Dunham said.

Exhibitor, though, almost didn’t come to Las Vegas.

“There was some argument about where to have the show the first year,” Dunham said.

Lee Knight created the trade show after he noticed mistakes exhibitors were making while he was working as a magician helping to promote Post-It Notes. He wanted to have the first show in San Francisco but was encouraged to try Las Vegas.

“It was almost immediately successful,” Dunham said.

Knight found a niche where there wasn’t much competition, teaching people how to put together trade shows. His show covered logistics, negotiating contracts and designing booths.

Contact reporter Laura Carroll at or 702-380-4588. Follow @lscvegas on Twitter.