A combination of tight budgets and increased scrutiny on conference spending knocked attendance at the world’s largest training and simulation conference down about 15 percent from last year.
The show floor was emptier than in years past, according to longtime I/ITSEC attendees. Some used the word “abandoned” to describe the feeling in the sprawling halls of the Orlando Convention Center. Despite the decrease, however, many said that decision-makers were still present and engaged in a dialogue with industry.
The National Training and Simulation Association, one of the conference’s organizers, has not released final attendance numbers, but communications director John Williams said the event attracted about 17,000 people, down from 20,000 last year.
I/ITSEC program chair Ron Smits said fewer engineers attended, which meant fewer technical discussions and more policy-based conversations.
Many military attendees only received formal permission to attend and present at I/ITSEC a few weeks before the event — or even less. The Air Force issued its official guidance the Friday before opening day.
“There were different approval levels that they [the services] needed to go through,” Smits said. “I think that demonstrates how committed the services were to I/ITSEC, because there was an incredibly high administrative hurdle for the services to participate.”
Smits said that budget constraints and travel restrictions might depress military attendance in the future.
But he said simulation is spreading into enough other sectors — such as energy, veterans affairs, and law enforcement — that he expects I/ITSEC attendance to creep back up.
Smits also noted an increase in international participation this year. This year, conference attendees represented 70 countries, up from 56 last year. Some countries, such as Brazil and the Netherlands, had dedicated pavilions.
The number of papers and attendance to the presentations hovered around the average seen in past years.
Smits said that one way I/ITSEC could have improved would have been through increased outreach to different segments of the industry and DoD, as well as more effectively using social media to reach people.
“There’s no reason for them not know what we do to support their mission,” Smits said.