Sequestration’s Impact Lingers for Government-Focused Tradeshows

The meetings industry as a whole is doing just fine, thank you very much. But a closer look shows that events that rely on government attendance are still hurting. Last week, the FOSE technology show became the latest victim of federal budget cuts and dwindling attendance.

Government-focused trade shows were delivered another blow last week when the producers of FOSE, one of the premiere events for government technology professionals, announced that the conference and accompanying exposition would not return in 2015. The event, formerly known as the Federal Office Systems Expo, drew 5,000 people to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, in May, representing a major drop from the 8,000 people who attended in 2013.

When you have economic tough times, a show like FOSE that’s built around federal employee attendance is not able to get those ladies and gentlemen out of their offices.

The quick decline of the 37-year-old expo shows the continued impact that sequestration-related budget cuts and government employee meeting attendance restrictions have had on the industry.

Anne Armstrong, co-president of 1105 Public Sector Media Group, which organized FOSE, told the Washington Post that the decision to pull the plug on the event had to do with new ideas and projects that the group is working on, though she didn’t offer details.

But others pointed to the ongoing difficulty of bringing in the federal audience. “Of course with the effects of sequestration, it’s no surprise that the FOSE show has decided to end their great run,” David DuBois, president and CEO of the International Association of Exhibits and Events, told the Post. “When you have economic tough times, a show like FOSE that’s built around federal employee attendance is not able to get those ladies and gentlemen out of their offices.”

Attendance was down 30 percent this year at tradeshows that target government employees, according to IAEE data cited by DuBois.

That trend is in stark contrast to the rest of the meetings industry, which continued to see moderate increases year over year, he said. “We’re just beginning to see a pickup. When the economy is good and the ducks are flying, companies have more money to put toward sales and marketing.”

One tactic many groups are using is switching to regional events throughout the year, rather than hosting one large event.

“A lot of times, when a big national show is shrinking away, they’ll say, ‘Let’s do four smaller regional shows instead,’” DuBois said. “If you take the shows to where customers are, they’re more likely to come.”

The National Defense Industrial Association, which was forced to cancel several events after sequestration took effect, looked into this option while reviewing its event portfolio last year.

“Part of our mitigation will be to review where we are having events and try to place them in a locale that best fits where the government folks are located who have knowledge of that functional area,” retired Major General Barry Bates, vice president of operations for NDIA, said at the time. “Over time, we will consolidate and relocate events, and retain the majority of our portfolio.”


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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