Of the almost 8,000 software makers, telecom providers and computer makers that rented space at this year's Cebit technology tradeshow, some had one question: Where are the crowds? "It seems most people pacing the halls are other exhibitors," said Phaneendra Ramaseshu, 29, a technical manager with Aztec Software & Technology Services Ltd. "It's very disappointing."
The Bangalore, India-based company, whose clients include Microsoft Corp and International Business Machines Corp, spent US$20,000 to display its wares and send two people to the week-long fair in Hanover, Germany. Fewer visitors means Ramaseshu is unlikely to reach his goal of signing up 10 new customers, he said.
A two-year slump in the technology and telecommunications industry, which erased half the value of the stocks listed on the NASDAQ Composite and Dow Jones Europe Stoxx Technology indexes, led to the first drop in Cebit exhibitors in at least 16 years.
Companies demonstrating products this year were looking for a boost from a show that drew a record 849,252 attendees last year.
Less than half that number of visitors -- about 350,000 -- had attended the show in the first four days of the event, according to preliminary figures posted to the fair's Web site on Sunday by organizer Deutsche Messe AG.
"I assume we won't have as many visitors this year as we did last year," said Deutsche Messe spokesman Ulrich Koch.
Attendance at Cebit, which ends tomorrow, last dropped in 1996, having previously grown every year since 1981. The number of exhibitors declined 1.6 percent.
"It certainly feels like there are a lot less people around this year," said Maren Eisler, 30, who works at one of more than a dozen snack shops on the fair grounds. Eisler, at Cebit for the third time, said visitor lines for a 4.70-euro (US$4.15) smoked-turkey sandwich and a 2.70-euro Coke bottle were longer last year.
Still, the world's biggest technology fair dwarfs rivals.
Companies from 60 countries set up 425,000m2 of displays, paying about 175 euros per square meter. By comparison, the Comdex technology tradeshow last November in Las Vegas, the largest in the US, drew an estimated 125,000 to 150,000 attendees and fewer than 2,000 exhibitors.
Cebit visitors, who pay 34 euros for a one-day ticket, come to wander 27 halls and view gadgets such as a Web-surfing wristwatch from IBM, a fold-up cloth keyboard from Logitech International SA and mobile phones with cameras from Nokia Oyj and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications Ltd.
Deutsche Telekom AG, Europe's biggest phone company, Siemens AG and IBM rented the largest exhibit spaces, according to Deutsche Messe. While Siemens, Germany's biggest electronics and engineering company, didn't bring the swimming pool it used last year, there were still plenty of unusual attractions.
Visitors could get their picture taken with a look-alike of video game and film character Lara Croft at the stand of Milpitas, California-based software maker Roxio Inc.
"We want our clients and our competitors to know what we do," said Andy Hall, sales manager at Roxio, who also noticed lower attendance. "It's a must-do show." Motorola Inc, the second-biggest maker of mobile phones, was pulling in the crowds with a disc jockey from Viacom Inc's MTV network perched over its stand. Another crowd magnet: the company's first handsets to use a faster wireless technology called Universal Mobile Telecommunications System.