The Importance of the Exhibitor on Capitol Hill

By Jessica Sibila, Executive Director – The Exhibitor Advocate

As exhibitors, primarily focused on our own company’s priorities, we don’t often think of ourselves as part of the exhibitions industry. In fact, we are a major element of this ecosystem and we’re a critical stakeholder in its success. This industry employees 2.6 million Americans and drives $399 billion in direct spending annually. This is why we need to play a bigger role in the conversations with other industry associations, advocate for our industry at the federal level and share our vision for the future of this industry.

With that in mind, The Exhibitor Advocate joined the Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance (ECA) on May 30 for Legislative Action Day. It was my first time meeting with congressional leaders to advocate for my industry. I’ve been a part of the exhibitions and events industry for over 20 years, but like most exhibitors, I had previously not considered myself (as an exhibitor) part of this industry. Most of us exhibitors see ourselves as part of the industry that our company belongs to. For me, it was natural products and food and beverage. For some it’s healthcare or tech, but we often don’t see ourselves as part of the exhibitions and events industry. Perhaps it’s because we are typically a team of one, within our company. We often feel incredibly alone as we navigate the challenges of the events industry. It’s only when we come together, at an event like an educational conference, that we realize our connection and our role in this industry.

I want all exhibitors to understand that it’s important to engage in this industry, not only to make the changes that we need individually, but for the betterment of our entire industry. This year, ECA is advocating for bills related to visa wait times and workforce development that are incredibly important for all stakeholders, exhibitors included. For the exhibitors who don’t understand how that might affect them, let me shed a bit of light.

The State Department received $50 million to address visa wait times last year. While this was good news, we needed to ask Congress to make some important policy changes that would further reduce wait times. We are still experiencing significant delays in getting international companies, both to exhibit and to attend trade shows, admitted into the country. In Mexico City the wait time can be up to 849 days that’s over two years. In Mumbai India, wait times can be 499 days almost a year and a half. The bills that we advocated for on Capitol Hill would make a series of improvements to the visa application process to allow more international companies the ability to participate in the exhibitions and events industry in the United States. Why does this matter to exhibitors? The attendees, your target audience, may be inhibited by the visa wait times. If we can’t get the attendees into the country in time for your show, you’re missing an opportunity to sell and network with this important audience.

We also advocated for several bipartisan bills that would improve access to skills -based training opportunities, for individuals from all backgrounds, to help them access new jobs and careers. The bills would expand the Pell Grant and the 529 college savings program, to give Americans the flexibility to use these funds to cover the cost of qualifying workforce training and credentialing programs. Why does this matter to exhibitors? As you may know, the exhibitions industry has lost a significant portion of our skilled workforce after Covid. By opening up these programs, we are better able to encourage interest and access into our industry. Specifically, it provides more opportunity to expand training to the skilled workforce that we need to set up our booths, hang our signs, and move our freight throughout the show. A larger skilled workforce allows us to be more effective, more efficient, and safer, at all of our trade shows and events.

I hope you will join me in providing support to the Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance through your association, The Exhibitor Advocate. Most importantly, I hope you will start to see yourself as the critical stakeholder in this industry that you are. The Exhibitor Advocate is here to support you in navigating the challenges on the show floor. The most effective way that we can do that is to partner with our industry associations and advocate for initiatives and opportunities, for all stakeholder groups, that will ensure the future success of our industry.

If you want to learn more, or have any questions about these initiatives, I encourage you to visit these resources and/or reach out to The Exhibitor Advocate at