The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), faced with stagnant convention attendance, hopes to boost interest in the annual event by scheduling it earlier in the year beginning in 2003. CSI's new strategy includes persuading other industry groups to schedule their conventions at the same time and place.
CSI's convention, which has been in June since the 1970s, will move to March or April. In 2003, it will be held April 9-11 at McCormick Place in Chicago. The 2004 and 2005 meetings will also be in Chicago in March. Only "first-tier" cities — including Chicago, Las Vegas and Orlando — will be considered for convention locations.
CSI has formed the umbrella "Construct America, Your Building Resource," to serve as a platform for other industry organizations to "co-locate" with the CSI convention. At press time, it was discussing such a plan with several organizations. Research has indicated that other groups want to organize under their own banner rather than CSI's, says Lisa Derby, CSI's director of professional development and events management.
The future meeting format will consist of a keynote speaker on opening day, a symposium on an industry topic on the second day and presentations on industry trends and forecasts on the third day. CSI will consolidate its leadership training and development activities, currently conducted several times a year, into a June leadership conference.
Attendance at this year's convention in Dallas was 7,290, down from 8,582 at last year's event in Atlanta. This year's convention drew 24 fewer exhibitors, decreasing revenue by about $100,000. Attendance over the past five years has been relatively flat, according to Derby.
Since the convention generates 45 percent of CSI's annual income, initiatives designed to increase attendance are critical, she says. The average booth size is at least 20 square feet. Exhibitors, conscious of the importance of keeping the appearance of their booths fresh, may spend $30,000 to $40,000 annually to update them.
By establishing earlier convention dates, CSI will leapfrog ahead of the American Institute of Architects, which holds its convention in May and has booked May or June dates through 2008.
Since a continuing education requirement for AIA membership became effective in 1996, total attendance has — from 9,090 to 18,000, with AIA members about 40 percent of the attendees, according to Christopher Gribbs, AIA's interim managing director of meetings and events. Gribbs is particularly heartened that attendance has increased from 6 percent of AIA's membership in 1996 to 10.5 percent this year.
Gribbs says 20 cities meet all of AIA's criteria for conventions, which include a large enough convention center and hotels within walking distance. Important is the number of architects within a 200-mile radius of the site. For example, the number for St. Louis is 690; for Philadelphia, it is 12,600. Diversity of convention locales is also a priority. Every five years, AIA considers a "wild card" city that is not high on its priority list.
AIA has conducted 133 annual conventions in its 144-year history. Gribbs says 85 percent of the booth space has been sold for next year's convention in Charlotte.