Gartner cancels 'flagship' spring tech conferences

Gartner cancels 'flagship' spring tech conferences

Research and consulting firm cancels its Spring Symposium/ITxpo in Las Vegas and Barcelona. Autumn Symposium/ITxpo events, including Sydney, still going ahead

In another bad sign of health for the IT industry, Gartner is canceling two of its biggest technology conferences due to the economic downturn.

The research and consulting firm is canceling its Spring Symposium/ITxpo in Las Vegas and Barcelona.

Both scheduled in May, the conferences highlighted emerging technology trends, were attended by IT managers and CIOs, and featured a star-studded list of IT speakers and Gartner analysts.

The Symposium/ITxpo, called the "flagship" on Gartner's Web sitfae, also stood out for often generating news. For instance, at last year's event, Gartner analysts warned that Windows was "collapsing" under its own bloated codebase, and that Microsoft needed to make radical overhauls.

"Every year, as a normal course of business planning, we conduct a thorough review of our worldwide event portfolio and make adjustments based on the trends and performance of individual events," said Gartner in a statement sent to the SageCircle analyst relations blog, which first broke the news, and seen by Computerworld.

"As a result of this review, we have decided to cancel this year's Spring Symposium/ITxpo in Las Vegas and Barcelona. While a number of factors influenced this decision, the primary reason for the change is the current macro economic environment and its anticipated impact on attendee travel and overall event attendance," Gartner said in the statement.

"Traditionally, Spring Symposium/ITxpo focused on emerging trends and technologies. We look forward to leveraging this rich body of content at our flagship Autumn Symposium/ITxpo events in Orlando, Cannes, Cape Town, Tokyo and Sydney, and at our targeted Summit events worldwide, providing more value to our clients and attendees," the statement said.

Carter Lusher, a strategist at SageCircle, said the move was not surprising. Besides slashed travel budgets and dried-up vendor marketing dollars, the Spring Symposiums "never achieved the level of success of the Fall [northern autumn] conferences in Orlando or even Cannes [France]."

While last year's Gartner spring event in Las Vegas drew about 2,000 attendees, the Orlando Symposium/ITxpo in the [northern] Autumn drew 6000 attendees.

Gartner CEO Gene Hall has been "pretty ruthless when it comes to cutting underperforming services," Lusher said. "If you're not contributing revenue or profits, you're gone."

Earlier this month, Gartner filed a notice with the SEC saying it would lay off 117 employees, or about 3% of its workforce.

The cancellation of the conferences, Lusher said, is also proof that "the entire conference industry is suffering".

Last month, Novell cancelled its annual BrainShare user and developer conference.

MacWorld, held byComputerworld sister company IDG World Expo, is on the rocks, after Apple said last month it would no longer exhibit at the show following the January show.

Microsoft has not yet announced whether it will hold its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, though it was at one point apparently scheduled for May in New Orleans.

And attendance at the International Consumer Electronics Show last week was reported to have been down 22% from 2008, to 110,000 visitors for the five-day show.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, said Tom Cherry, chief operating officer of Virtual Post Office, a distributor of press kits for trade shows and conferences, as a show such as CES had "lost its focus and grown way beyond its member base" to attract what Cherry called "tech tourists."

Such looky-loos apparently didn't show up this year, Cherry said. "If it wasn't your job and you came to CES just to gawk, you probably stayed away."

Still, Cherry predicted that many trade shows and conferences were likely to see attendance and overall revenues down between 20% and 40%. And sudden cancellations -- Gartner's shows were less than four months away -- won't create the outcry they would have three years ago. There's more leeway today, because of the "incredibly unstable" economic environment, he said.

Lusher says smaller regional conferences that don't require air travel will fare the best. He doesn't believe that the downturn will spell the end for large, multi-vendor shows such as the CES. But the weaker ones will fail, which will benefit the surviving conferences.

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