The 2019 IAFE Trade Show came to a close on Wednesday. This was the first convention outside of Las Vegas in over 40 years and the move has been much anticipated and talked about over the past few years since the announcement was made. In conversations with IAFE officials, it seems San Antonio met and even exceeded the organization’s expectations.
Marla Calico, President and CEO of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE), is overjoyed with the response to the 2018 Annual Convention. Trade Show space sold out in mid-October; there were a few cancellations due to weather or illness but most of those spaces were filled from the waiting list.
Calico says November 1st was the deadline for registration this year. At that point, IAFE had the most convention registrations before the deadline since 2007. “Our trend is up,” says Calico, though those numbers only reflect registration through Nov. 1, final numbers were not available at press time.
The staff at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and host hotels have received rave reviews from convention organizers including Calico. “It was so refreshing to work with this staff. It’s nice to feel wanted and welcomed. Not only staff members but also restaurant workers and people in the town are friendly and happy to have us here,” says Calico.
Educational programming throughout the convention was also well attended. Calico mentioned new programming called “Legend Led” which featured industry legends. These programs were intended to be small, intimate discussions rather than large presentations. In fact, the Legend Led programs were set up in small rooms with seating for 35-50 people and no sound system. The first program, held on Sunday, drew 200 people. “We had to do a quick set change in order to accommodate the crowd. Then, overnight, we made arrangements to move the Legend Led programs into a room with carpeted floors and sound barriers on the walls so it still had an intimate feel,” says Calico. Quick room arrangements and accommodations are another testament to the high quality of the convention staff.
Monday and Tuesday’s general sessions were also jam-packed. The host theatre had 3 tiers of seating and Calico recalls having to spread into the 3rd tier of seats for both of these programs. Wednesday’s general session was a little lighter but still well attended.
Calico and other IAFE board members made it a point to speak with attendees about their opinions regarding the convention as they do each year. “My goal each year of the annual convention is to walk around the trade show and thank each exhibitor for coming. Of course I didn’t make it all the way through,” laughed Calico. She says feedback about the move to San Antonio and the convention in general was overwhelmingly positive.
The IAFE is offering surveys about overall experiences; convention attendees can fill out the surveys as they exit educational programming and the trade show. “We have some top-line results from the surveys and we’re hitting all our marks,” says Calico. About 40% of survey responders so far are first-time convention attendees.