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18 Jun 2019

Exploring the US events'​ market - chairing my first AEO International Dinner

Exploring the US events'​ market - chairing my first AEO International Dinner

Last week, I proudly took on my first official act as Chairman of the AEO International Organisers Group, guiding an AEO International Dinner.

The International Dinners are an exhibition industry networking event, focused on a particular geography, in this instance the USA. The International Organisers Group began these dinners to bring people together to talk about the opportunities, and gather market knowledge, of a particular country or region.

International dinner - US

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As luck would have it, the first dinner I hosted was focused on the US. For one, the US remains the world’s largest exhibition market, so I knew people would be interested in attending. For another, I have extensive experience working in the US, Comexposium has some great events there, like our Franchise and Curve events, and I also was CEO of UBM Americas, looking after a whole suite of brilliant US shows.

For this dinner, we were joined by an expert on the US market, David Audrain. David is CEO & Partner of Exposition Development Company, Inc., and Executive Director of SISO. He spoke about the vast size of the US market, strategies for geo-adapting, and looking at adjacent sectors. 

Over the course of the evening, we had a free-flowing and easy discussion with a mix of industry professional from large organisers, listed companies, and family and privately owned, businesses. 

Organising exhibitions in the US


We talked in-depth about the association phenomena in the US. The majority of the top 200 events in the US are association owned, creating challenges for commercial organisers to compete against these “owned communities.” It’s also often difficult to acquire an association owned event. Although, there is hope for entering the US, as increasingly there are opportunities to partner, manage, and support these events.


Further, we discussed some of the major differences in the organisation of a US event. In the US, 98% of the venues are owned by city, funded by local tax, resulting in a push from the venues to make big hotel block commitments. Whist the venues themselves are often cheaper than in Europe, these big hotel commitments can be risky for organisers, and often the service prices, labour and drayage, are much higher.


Another point discussed was the build of a show, general contractors control the labour force, so it’s essential to have strong relationships. Typically, the build of a show is less complex than in Europe, as pipe and drape is the popular style, lighter and quicker to install and dismantle. We also talked exhibitor and attendee trends. Winding down the evening by talking about the typical paid-attendance model, and the need to partner with strong media outlets to drive attendance, especially if you aren’t working with an association. 

Working as a community

Reflecting on the dinner, and again at the AEO awards last week, I was reminded how unique the exhibition and media industry is in that we truly work together as a community. We come together, share, celebrate, discuss our challenges and opportunities, we work as peers more than competitors. It’s this spirit that is why I’m so pleased to be able to chair the International Organisers group, and to be hosting these International Dinners. I hope we continue doing many more things of this nature to further the industry.

I’d like to thank everyone who came out to our dinner, especially David for being our resident expert for the evening, and I’d like to say thank you again to Circdata for sponsoring the dinner. Our next dinner is on 14 Oct, discussing Mexico, I’m already looking forward to it. Also, be on the lookout for the Global Event Study, the new report should be out soon.