Europe gets CeBIT between its teeth

CeBIT: If technology trade shows are heading for extinction, why is CeBIT 2005 twice as big as Comdex in its heyday?

Next Wednesday, seven thousand technology marketing managers will breathe a collective sigh of relief. The CeBIT trade show — the focal point for technology companies across Europe — will be over for another year and the marketers can enjoy a brief respite… before planning begins for 2006.

Despite the dramatic collapse of its US counterpart Comdex, CeBIT — which takes place in Hanover, Germany — continues to be an extremely big deal for the European technology industry. While statistics are no replacement for actually seeing the behemoth from the ground, the German show is unbelievable large — nearly twice as big as Comdex was at its height. The Las Vegas show peaked at 2,340 exhibitors, 235,000 attendees and 132,000m2 of floor space in 1997, compared to CeBit 2005's 6,270 exhibitors, 308,881m2 display space and close to 500,000 attendees.

Trying to divine meaning from a phenomenon whose unfeasible enormity defies logic isn't an easy task. It would be nice to paint the continuing success of CeBIT as evidence of the unchecked, inextricable rise of the European technology industry — outstripping even the rambunctious home of high-tech, the US, in innovation and sheer technical optimism. The reality is slightly less exciting but encouraging nonetheless.

In an era when industry commentators were predicting the end of the trade-show as a force in marketing and product innovation, CeBIT continues to thrive. Not only that, but while Comdex was eventually usurped by the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in the US, CeBIT seems to be hanging on to its business focus. According to the shows organisers Deutsche Messe, CeBIT still attracts a high proportion of professional visitors. In 2004, 85 percent of attendees were from the IT industry and of those 30 percent came from top management and 56 percent headed up the sales division.

CeBIT's continued popularity proves that reports of the death of the trade show have been greatly exaggerated; European businesses are still enormously interested in the potential of technology, and you don't have to go to Silicon Valley to see the technical innovation at its best. Oh, and if you're thinking of attending the show then wear comfortable shoes — 25 miles of exhibition halls is no joke.