Graph Expo 2014 Show Floor. Photo courtesy of GASC.

On the face of it, all the GASC announcement says is that there will be a one-year detour to Orlando between now and 2017, when the Print show will have its prescheduled run at McCormick Place in Chicago. That’s also where we’ll be heading for Graph Expo this year—no change there, either. So, what’s the larger story?

We gained some insight in a conversation with GASC’s Ralph Nappi just prior to the distribution of the press release. We learned that he and GASC are walking a fine line between loyalty to Chicago and a desire to see how the Print and Graph Expo shows will fare in a different venue—perhaps alternating between Chicago and another city in the years after 2017.

Nappi said that the immediate reason for the move to Orlando next year was the need to avoid conflict with religious holidays that tend to fall during Graph Expo’s September time frame. That collision of obligations will occur at Graph Expo this year. According to Nappi, the city of Chicago was unable to provide a conflict-free schedule for Graph Expo in 2016, prompting GASC to look for options elsewhere.

Offering suitable dates, Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center got the nod on March 16. Also in the running, according to Nappi, had been Anaheim, Las Vegas, Indianapolis, and Philadelphia. The decision to relocate to Orlando next year received “a lot of support” from the exhibitors who were notified of it in advance, he said.

He emphasized that there is no plan to abandon the Windy City. “We’re committed to Chicago in 2017,” he said. “We haven’t decided not to be in Chicago.” GASC is holding uncommitted dates for shows in Chicago after 2017, and GASC continues to think of the city as a viable place to stage its trade shows.

Nevertheless, said Nappi, “we’re quiet on the future” in terms of where the shows will be held after 2017. This points to the bigger picture of why GASC set what probably will be a precedent by making Orlando Graph Expo’s temporary home in 2016.

Although the issue of religious holidays was a factor in the decision, it was far from being the only driver. As Nappi knows better than anyone else, some equipment vendors have been complaining for years about the high costs and restrictive rules at McCormick Place, a heavily unionized environment. The Orange County Convention Center doesn’t use union labor, and as a destination for showgoers, its surrounding city is a lot easier on the budget as well.

For example, says, Nappi, of the 25 show-affiliated hotels that GASC directs attendees to in Chicago, only five book rooms for under $200 per night. In Orlando, only five of the hotels GASC will use cost more than $200. Orlando offers closer geographical proximity to the Latin American and Caribbean print markets than Chicago, and its family-friendly attractions speak for themselves.

Does this mean that we can anticipate shuttling between Orlando (or another city) and Chicago for the Print and Graph Expo shows in alternating years? Not necessarily. Despite the positive reactions to the 2016 announcement that Nappi said he got from some exhibitors, he doesn’t yet know how his exhibitor base as a whole will take to being away from the venue where they have been setting up their stands for so many years. And, the Chicago area continues to host one of the largest concentrations of printing and print-related businesses anywhere in the country—another good reason for GASC to keep a foot firmly planted near Lake Michigan.

But a home away from home for the shows pretty clearly seems to be what GASC has in mind. It’s now possible, says Nappi, to picture “a world where Graph Expo isn’t in Chicago year in and year out.” He notes that other graphics industry shows switch between locations, and he reminds us that Graph Expo used to hold a regional spinoff—Graph Expo East—in New York City and Philadelphia in addition to the main event in Chicago.

Nappi says that in new surroundings, there could be a new look and a new feel for the GASC shows. Our view is that if a makeover can help to stem the decline in vendor participation and industry attendance that we’ve been sorry to witness in recent years, changing the venue is well worth a try.

This by itself won’t be enough to answer perennial questions about what kind of ROI can be expected from taking part in trade shows—no city on earth can work the magic it would take to offer GASC’s exhibitors that guarantee. But Orlando seems a promising place to let the sun shine on Graph Expo in 2016—a year that could turn out to be pivotal in the long history of the still-vital GASC events.