It’s five years since I’ve been to Cebit, but even from the comfort of the office it’s been clear the knives have been out for the world’s largest IT trade show. I’m off to Hannover this evening and it’ll be interesting to see how the exhibition has changed – in 2001 it was attracting 800,000 visitors, this time around organisers are expecting half that.
In the nineties, IT magazines sent teams of journalists to report on Cebit, but interest in the show dwindled when industry heavyweights such as Dell and HP pulled their participation. One of the biggest gripes was that trade shows like Cebit attracted too many consumers and not enough business people – the upshot being that the return on investment in exhibiting at Cebit was no longer there. Cebit wasn’t supposed to be about communicating with end users, it was about striking deals with industry partners.
The ubiquity of the internet also means that information about companies and their products is there for everyone to see in an instant. Even when I first went ten years ago, Cebit veterans who had been attending the show since the eighties were saying the case for splashing out on flights and hotel rooms was decreasing. When Cebit first launched, it was the easiest way for IT business people to communicate with partners and find out about new products. But the spread of internet access meant that by 1997, most companies’ product spec sheets were just a click away.
I’m not complaining about the fall in attendees though – this is the first time I’ve secured a hotel room during Cebit. Previously the number of hotel rooms in Hannover hasn’t been sufficient to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of visitors, and so the Hannover tourist board sent anyone who hadn’t booked months previously to makeshift accommodation in people's homes.