It might still be the world's largest computers and communication trade fair, but CeBIT is struggling to halt a sharp decline in exhibitor numbers, which have fallen 25 percent since its peak in 2001.
CeBIT peaked in 2001, but has watched its popularity decline since
CeBIT, which opens its doors to visitors on Thursday in the northern German city of Hanover, had 8,100 exhibitors in 2001. This has fallen dramatically to 6,000 this year.
The most notable stay-aways are Nokia, Motorola, BenQ and Lenovo. They join major firms such as Sony, E-Plus, and Phillips who quit CeBIT in 2006, while Dell and HP haven't returned since their retirement from the trade fair a couple of years ago.
The Finnish mobile phone company Nokia has pulled out of CeBIT this year
Lenovo, China's biggest PC manufacturer, said it decided not to attend the fair because the investment didn't bring a big enough return.
"In Germany, the company focuses on marketing activities that show a direct return on investment like road shows or partner-recruiting events," Lenovo said in a statement.
Paul Trotter, the editor of the magazine PC Advisor, said one of the major reasons for CeBIT's falling popularity is that IT companies simply don't have as much money now as they once did.
"Five years ago was really the height of the dotcom bubble, and every IT company had lots of money to spend compared to now," he said.
CeBIT too general
Trotter says that with smaller budgets, the trend is for IT companies to only attend fairs that are very specific to their markets, such as an IT education trade show or a small business technology fair, instead of exhibiting at an all-encompassing fair like CeBIT.
"At these particular events, you are more likely to be seen, because you can guarantee the people that are there are interested in your products," Trotter said.
It is a problem that has affected other trade fairs, notably Comdex in the United States which closed in 2004 after exhibitors turned their back on the event, complaining it had grown to unmanageable proportions.
High-definition TVs are a big attraction with CeBIT visitors
Critics also say the growth in products such as digital cameras and high-definition TVs that attract consumers to the show has made some exhibitors think twice about attending. Too many consumers are not good for companies that want to strike deals with industry partners.
"A lot of companies have paid good money to go to fairs like CeBIT, and they want to make good deals -- not to give away free pens to consumers," Trotter said.
Product information online
And of course, companies working in the IT and communications industry tend to have an enormous presence on the Internet. This means it's now possible to find out information about new products in only a few seconds.
"The ability to get information about products and services has never been easier and that kind of hits the need to attend big trade shows all the time," Trotter said.
Few predict the imminent demise of CeBIT, which attracted some 450,000 visitors last year, more than any show of its kind. But still, at its peak in in 2001, the show attracted nearly double that number.
The fair gets a make-over
To stop the rot, organizers have announced they will try to make the fair more "professional." Sven-Michael Prüser, an executive at the air operator Deutsche Messe, said that this, however, did not mean CeBIT was trying to exclude the general public.
Non-trade visitors have been barred from other leading fairs such as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held every January in Las Vegas.
"We have a responsibility to the corporate buyers, but if possible we also want to adeptly appeal to a non-professional audience too," Prüser said at the CeBIT preview in Hamburg. "But the focus in the end is on business."
CeBIT organizers want to make the fair more interesting for corporate customers
In 2008, CeBIT will only run for six days instead of seven. The fair will also open earlier in the week to give exhibitors a chance to meet with the industry before being overrun with visitors on the weekend.
Despite the drop in exhibitor numbers, Prüser maintains an optimistic stance on CeBIT's future. "If organizations have nothing to show, then it's probably better not to appear," Prüser told the online IT portal ZDNet.
He pointed out that Motorola and Nokia, despite deciding not to pay for their own conference stands, will send employees to the exhibition and will be co-exhibitors with Vodafone.
"So they'll occupy some of the space that Vodafone rents, which is a cost-saving and a very efficient thing to do," he said.