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Tue 4 Feb 2003 04:00 AM

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Comdex goes bust

Although the news won’t come as much of a surprise, Key3Media, the organisers of the Comdex IT show, finally filed for bankruptcy last week.

Although the news won’t come as much of a surprise, Key3Media, the organisers of the Comdex IT show, finally filed for bankruptcy last week.

A slump in IT markets, declining public interest in PCs and an American market that became reluctant to travel due to security concerns all played their part in bringing to an end one of the biggest IT shows ever.

Meanwhile, last week’s Gitex Hyderabad reported that visitors were up 50% and exhibitor participation up 55% on last year, securing the future of the show for 2004. Saudi Gitex in April is promising to be another successful show. But will trade shows in the Middle East eventually face the same problems as those in the US?

The US is undoubtedly still ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to technology and the technology business, even though the gap between east and west has narrowed.

Comdex was one of the biggest IT shows in the world, but its decline cannot be seen as a one off. There has been no great competitor that sunk Comdex—the International Consumer Electronics Show is still thriving, but it does not play in the same area as Comdex. This would seem to suggest that perhaps as the industry evolves, the need for trade fairs declines.

So what does this mean for this region? Already last year’s Gitex Dubai suffered from several high profile absences, but at the same time, visitor numbers were up. Certainly the interest in the IT industry is still as strong as ever, although whether this interest and attendees turn into business for the exhibitors is always debatable.

While international exhibitors may be thinking twice, local partners have stepped into their shoes, providing an even more pertinent exhibitor base for the shows. What will be interesting is the long term effect that diversification has on the shows. Opening local shows around the region may dilute attendance somewhat, or it may provide a stronger, more relevant offering for different regions.

Also with the speed that the technology is moving, most companies do not want to wait until a trade fair until they launch products, and are considering other methods of showcasing new products.

The future of Comdex is unclear—Key3Media still intends to go ahead with the shows it has booked, and if the technology market recovers in the US, I suspect that IT companies will once again be happy to invest in trade fairs, if only as a piece of self-promotion. For the Middle East, the situation is equally unclear. trade show organisers do not have quite the same slump in the IT markets to contend with, but at the same time, companies are not just spending without seeing a return. The sector is worth watching closely.

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