Technology Trade Show Must Go On, Albeit Restrained
“In the shadow of calamity, business goes on - sometimes softer, sometimes escapist”.
The Networld+Interop, in Atlanta this week, was depleted already by a belt-tightening economy that had many executives shunning trips. While organizers had predicted another 50,000-attendee year, exhibitors in their booths said the turnout was down to begin with.
Then Tuesday`s horror sucked the energy out of the event.
The show closed at midafternoon Tuesday. When it reopened Wednesday, some people had slipped into cars and gone home. Those remaining made the best of it, alternating between the patter of commerce and talk about the mind-numbing notion of mass murder.
The subject was never far off. At the doors to the trade show floor, a young man was talking to colleagues about a possible attack on the Afghan Taliban. “It couldn`t happen to a nicer government,” he said. A few yards away was a woman wearing a shirt with the word “Threshold,” an escalator lifting her smoothly away from the show floor.
“I know, I know,” she sighed into a cellphone. “I think we`ll all be glad to get home.”
Fred Rosen, chief executive of Los Angeles-based Key3Media Group, which owns the event, emphasized the company`s commitment to Atlanta, noting its recent announcement that it will bring Comdex here in 2002. He acknowledged that the final Networld numbers will be disappointing.
“At the end, this is just a trade show about chasing business. In normal times, if attendance is light, people feel angry. In times like these, you look at it with a different eye and realize how lucky you are.”
Although a large number of registered attendees were from metro Atlanta, many exhibitors flew in last weekend from the West Coast and hope to go home this week.
“We are pretty much assuming that it is going to be chaos at the airport,” said Mary Troy of Portland, Ore.-based TechTracker Inc. “We considered other means of transport, but we`ll probably just hop on a plane.”
After Tuesday`s events, the company`s representatives just didn`t feel up to the evening`s press event, said marketing manager Tom Williams. “We just dropped a note on the table and went back to the hotel.”
Renee Henrich, spokeswoman for U4EA, a British software company, came down from Washington. The drop in both attendance and enthusiasm was palpable, she said. Exhibitors seemed to outnumber attendees, she said. “Many of the media appointments we had, the journalist just didn`t show up.”
Those who were at the show gamely tried to do their work.
Andrea Simpkins came from Germany with a dozen-member team from Deutsche Telekom. She didn`t feel very lively, she said, but there she was in the DT booth, smiling. “We are here, and we still have to do what we are supposed to be doing.”
“Yesterday, I felt just overwhelmed with sadness,” said Marie-Claire Lemoine, 21, a model, dancer and pianist from Louisiana hired as one of Austin`s girls. “But the show kinda had to go on. I am just hoping to take people`s minds off it a little.”