Attendance Shortfall Blamed on Terrorist Attacks

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LAS VEGAS -- Attendance at the American Teleservices Association's 18th Annual Convention & Exhibition is up slightly over last year's show but well below expectations, ATA officers said yesterday.

Projections based on pre-show registration called for attendance of 600 people at the Las Vegas Hilton Sept. 30-Oct. 3. But the expected late and on-site registrations never materialized. The ATA blamed the smaller turnout on last month's terrorist attacks and the ensuing travel fears that gripped much of the nation.

About 450 people and 38 exhibitors attended the show, compared to 400 people and 27 exhibitors at last year's convention in Orlando. About 30 people registered after Sept. 11, while roughly another 30 individuals canceled, along with one exhibitor.

Newly elected ATA chairman Bill Miklas praised attendees for showing their support for the organization despite understandable concerns about travel. The economic impact of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which caused many teleservices agencies to cease outbound calling, played just as large a role in people's decisions on whether to attend the convention as did safety concerns, he said.

The financial effects of the attendance shortfall on the ATA will be substantial, Miklas said. Rather than generating needed excess revenue to support ATA programs and activities, the convention will bring in just enough money for the ATA to break even this year, just as it did last year.

Canceling the show was never an option due to the ATA's financial commitments and investments, Miklas said. Unlike the Direct Marketing Association, which is offering free airfare to those who register after Sept. 11 for its annual convention later this month in Chicago, the ATA declined to run a promotion to boost attendance.

However, the ATA did change its no-refund policy. Those who cancelled were offered a 25 percent discount or 60 percent credit on a future ATA event.

Exhibitors at the show interviewed yesterday said they were pleased with the turnout, given the circumstances. By Tuesday, a few booths were empty, evidence of some firms leaving early. Exhibitors who stayed said they found many qualified leads.

"I knew it was going to be a smaller show coming in," said David LaBatt, senior executive with USA 800, Kansas City, a call-center agency. "It's a good mix of people who need our services."

Several exhibitors said they were happy with a vacation-giveaway contest for a trip to St. Thomas. To qualify for the contest, attendees had to visit every booth and collect a stamp, which exhibitors said increased the circulation on the exhibit floor.

Most exhibitors said they had registered for the show months in advance and never considered canceling. Many travel regularly for the jobs and said they were happy to return to routine.

"I think attendance was better in previous years," said Nancy Raftis vice president of administration with Startel, Irvine, CA, a Comverse company. "But it's understandable."


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