Cone of silence covers IT tours

Anyone who has been in IT for more than five minutes has had the opportunity to live by that wise little adage "What happens on tour, stays on tour."

This is one little ditty that is a staple part of the IT trade show and conference diet. Without telling tales, most IT pro's can recite a few colourful travel stories from conference trips or days on tour. But alas, the larger vendors are staging fewer, smaller events with less glitz and more focus.

Australia's largest exhibition centres claim IT trade show bookings have dropped by more than 10 per cent.

Vendors claim that when customers want information they are more inclined to click on their mouse and travel to the supplier's Web site rather than make a cross-country trek to check out the latest technologies at a trade fair.

Falling attendances come as no surprise when you consider that for many the ROI on a giant, glitzy trade fair was often a few free key chains, coffee mugs and frisbees.

Time is money and IT professionals have become far more discerning when selecting an event. Hence, the proliferation of the industry breakfast or lunch-time seminar. These are short, sharp and time-efficient which is easier to digest than a long-winded, two-day affair.

It is certainly a far cry from five years ago when everyone seemed to have too much money and time on their hands. The prevailing theme at most trade events was to load up attendees with excesses of every kind. Participants went home from these events with alcohol poisoning and a suitcase of glow-in-the-dark caps and fluorescent badges. One event, synonymous with excess, is Dimension Data's annual foray on the Sunshine Coast, which was cancelled this year and likely to return in 2005.

Conferences are also changing and tend to feature more customer-based case studies and less sponsored drivel. What hasn't changed is the hectic scheduling typical of a week-long conference. The routine goes like this. Day starts at 7am. Participant makes admirable attempt to attend 552 sessions by lunch time.

This is repeated in the afternoon. Day ends with a dinner that allows you to return to your room just before midnight. Despite the exhaustion and sore stomach from too much catered food you are then forced to tackle the day's e-mails and still complete the work you would have done if you were in the office. A quick nap and it starts all over again. Conferences are a major contributor when it comes to toughening up a seasoned IT pro. Obviously, these annual events by large vendors will always be around. If you are an IBM or SAP shop you will make the annual pilgrimage to the all-important user conference.

The only thing that changes is the location. Do you have travel plans this year? What is the single biggest drawcard for you when attending an IT event? I wouldn't dare ask you to share your past conference stories, we all know the golden rule. What happens on tour, stays on tour. My lips are sealed. Send e-mails to sandra_rossi@idg.com.au

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