Sept. 11 Attacks Stall Latecomers at ATA Annual

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High hopes for a sizable attendance boost at this year's annual American Teleservices Association convention in Las Vegas were dashed when expected late registrants failed to materialize, possibly because of fallout from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.


Based on preliminary registration and the number of late and on-site registrants for last year's show, the ATA had projected about 600 attendees. As it turned out, only 450 people showed for the ATA's 18th Annual Convention & Exhibition, held Sept. 30 to Oct. 3 at the Las Vegas Hilton.


Only 30 people registered for the convention after Sept. 11. Another 30 canceled, so rather than receiving a last-minute boost for the show, the ATA broke even on registration after the attacks in New York and Washington.


ATA executives had hoped this year's convention would create excess revenue and help fund added activities next year. As it turned out, the ATA needed the revenue from the show just to break even.


The ATA offered those who canceled a 25 percent refund or a 60 percent credit on a future ATA event. Canceling the show was not an option because of the financial obligations the ATA had with the exhibit hall and hotel, said Bill Miklas, the ATA's new chairman.


"It would have been a huge financial burden for the ATA to bear," Miklas said. "We simply couldn't afford to do it."


By Oct. 2, the last day the exhibit hall was open during the show, a few booths that had been full at the show's beginning stood empty, signs that some exhibitors saw fit to leave early. But exhibitors interviewed during the dwindling hours of the show floor had no unkind words for the ATA.


"I think attendance was better in prior years," said Nancy Raftis, regional sales manager at Startel, Irvine, CA. "But it's understandable. It's good based on the situation."


The ATA kept its promise to remove early morning exhibit hall hours in favor of midmorning and evening exhibit hall hours. However, the exhibit hall was bigger than it had been at the 2000 show in Orlando, giving some the impression that the hall was emptier than last year, even though the number of exhibitors increased from 27 to 38.


"Last year, it seemed more compact," said Debbie Baldwin, national sales manager at Kelly Services, Troy, MI. "But I know there are more vendors this year."


Exhibitors said business went well at the show, with the number of well-qualified leads making up for the overall light traffic. They were particularly pleased with the results of a drawing for a trip to St. Thomas that required contestants to go to every booth and obtain a stamp.


"I knew it was going to be a smaller show coming in," said David LaBatt, senior executive at USA 800, Kansas City, MO. "It has a good mix of people who need our services."


Despite travel fears gripping the public since the Sept. 11 attacks, attendance at the show, which was unaudited, was up slightly from last year, Miklas said. Overall ATA membership has grown from 1,000 to 2,400 since the last show.


Miklas praised the work done by the ATA's management firm, Management Options Inc., in building the organization. Another 15 months remain on the company's contract, and informal discussions are under way about the firm's future with the ATA, Miklas said.


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