BOOKINGS in the top locations for big international exhibitions and conferences in prime time are being taken for 2000 and beyond. Preparations are measured in years, not months or weeks.
But for the rank and file meetings, small corporate conferences or special promotions, the trend is the opposite. Organisation is faster, esponses expected quicker and the industry is more mobile.
The change reflects that of business generally in a more cost-conscious world where mineral water is the fashionable liquid accompaniment on the exhibitor's stand or the conference lunch rather than lashings of alcohol.
The allure of foreign travel and a few days in a luxury hotel has faded in an age of mass communication and regular international contacts. When the price of a place at a big conference may cost pounds 500 and accommodation a further pounds 500, it is hardly surprising that organisations want to see tangible returns on their investment.
"Lawyers, designers, accountants, doctors and other professionals can charge upwards of pounds 200 an hour for their time. At these rates, they can rarely afford to spend four or five days out of their offices discussing general issues but can justify attendance at a two- day event where they focus on topics of direct relevance to their business," said Vanessa Cotton, of the Evnt Organisation Company.
The large exhibitions, where some of the biggest participants can have a budget of pounds 1m, are showing a steady recovery from the recession, with bookings for annual events up on last year. Total spend on exhibitions in Britain alone is more than pounds 1.3bn.
Valerie Thompson, marketing director of Reed Exhibitions, which organises more than 300 events in 25 countries, said it was not a matter of a show's size, but how well it concentrated on the process of doing business. "It remains a cost-effective way of seeing thousands of customers with one sales team in one week," she added.
Destinations in Europe and North America remain the most popular both for conferences and exhibitions but growing competition is coming from the Far East, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Figures from the Union of International Associations, which gathers information on all international congresses, show that the United States has held its lead as the most popular contry, followed by France and Britain.
More than 960 congresses were held in the US in 1992, the latest year for which statistics are available, although such international meetings represent less than 10 per cent of all conferences. …