This year’s DEMA Show in Orlando, Florida — a year after a Las Vegas show that was still strongly feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic — could best be described as a “building year,” according to Tom Ingram, president and CEO of the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association.
In his annual chat with DeeperBlue.com during the show, Ingram said this year’s attendance was two-thirds the size of the last non-pandemic-affected show, 2019 in Orlando.
This year saw 50 percent more exhibit space compared to the 2021 show and around 50 percent more attendees than that show, he said:
“I consider this to be a building year; we’re working our way back through it, trying to get all the components back into place.”
The biggest thing on the horizon for DEMA will be next year’s show in New Orleans:
“I think we’ll be much closer to what we call ‘normal,’ perhaps even bigger than the 2019 show.”
Had the pandemic not occurred in 2020, “we really anticipated that there would be a pretty sizable boost to the attendance and also the exhibit base . . . and of course all that fell apart,” he said.
“All the trends were moving in that direction and I suspect that’s the case. Space selection’s been going really well for the folks that are here so most of the companies have already selected that were scheduled to do so in the first three days of the show. So I think we’re going to see a great comeback there and then once space selection is completed anyone that is not here will have the opportunity to come back in and select if they want to do so and then we’ll sell throughout the year, so I would expect that it’s going to be good sized.”
Ingram added that “we’re being cautiously optimistic about our budgets and things that we need to do but I think we’ll certainly be a show that can contribute back to the nonprofit organization that is DEMA.”
One holdover that DEMA has kept since the onset of the pandemic and will keep going forward is online education, according to Ingram:
“We hesitated over the years to do that but we’re finding that we’re getting a sizeable attendance and and people are really interested in doing that. We’ve connected it back to the show so it’s really the people that are attending online are also people that are registered here or the seminar pass for the show, but we’re also looking at strategizing how we can make that available throughout the year so you’ll see some of that coming.”
Additionally, DEMA will be introducing a new incentives program beginning in 2023 dubbed “DEMA Rewards,” Ingram said:
“Its an awards program this is kind of an offshoot of all of the stuff that’s happened that we we want to be able to provide additional incentives to participate not only with the show but with the association. So they have to be a DEMA member but you can participate [by] working, volunteering with the committees, working to get your membership renewed on time before the end of the first quarter of the new year, voting in the elections which are coming up.
“Those types of things will along with being a participant in the show as an attendee or as an exhibitor, staying at the DEMA hotel blocks, those kinds of things earn rewards points which can be exchanged for cash value and so we’re we’re looking at trying to help pay back to those people that are sticking with us.
“We’re excited about being able to launch that with the new membership so the folks that are here at the show now or re-upping their membership for 2023 are already starting points for it.
“And as long as they renew their membership before the end of the first quarter — end of March — then they’ll be able to earn some incentive points there and it’s a great way to say thank you for all the folks that are still doing everything they can to keep us alive and also helping their businesses and save some money too.”
Despite the larger size compared to last year, there were some pretty glaring absences like ScubaPro and Aqualung, who didn’t have booths this year.
That said, just because they don’t have a presence on the floor doesn’t mean they’re not working with DEMA to help grow the dive industry, according to Ingram:
“I want them to do what’s what’s right sized for them. I want them back of course and we all do but I wanted to do the thing that will get them the return on their investment so that they’re willing to be with us for the long term. We have to take care of them in that way just like it’s helpful for them to be with us. In the meantime, companies like Scubapro and Aqualung are participating with us with things like behavioral survey research research data and that kinda stuff so they’re they’re great members; they’ve been members for a long time, they have to look at their own financial model [and] they have to answer to a board of directors as well.”
While the vast majority of attendees were not masked (and the state of Florida had long since lifted its mask mandate), Ingram said things like hand sanitation stations and voluntary mask waring on the show floor would be continued even next year in New Orleans.
“We want to be sensitive to that because there are some people who are really affected by all of this, their families were and so if somebody wants to continue to wear a mask, hey I’m all for it.”