You might not have heard of the American exhibition terms: carpetbagging, suitcasing or outboarding but your event has certainly suffered from the loss of income they entail.

The term ‘Carpetbagging’ has been around for years and is defined as: companies who refuse to book a stand but try to benefit from your exhibition visitors, by selling to them in the aisles or at the entrance to your event.  The modern term is ‘Suitcasing’ but it means the same thing and refers to the bag in which literature and samples are carried onto the show floor, a bag which can be quickly zipped up and removed if the organisers or security staff are spotted.

‘Outboarding’ refers to non-exhibiting companies who set up exhibits at off-site locations: hotel suites or hospitality rooms or restaurants and encourage show attendees to leave your event and visit them.

These practices are unethical and are stealing business from show organisers and legitimate exhibitors, who get very upset seeing their non-exhibiting competitors approaching their clients and prospects.  Show visitors are also irritated by being approached in the aisles, or as they leave the show by people handing out leaflets and samples and/or being invited to visit off-site presentations.

A survey of 200 American exhibitors, when asked if they felt Suitcasing and Outboarding had a negative effect on the show, 73% said yes, whilst 21% of the same exhibitors, admitted they had and 31% said that they were considering downsizing their stand but putting people in the aisle to solicit business to ‘get the best of both worlds’. Most of these exhibitors indicated that they believe the use of such tactics was on the increase and would continue during times of economic recession.

The excuse from non-exhibitors caught suitcasing and outboarding are normally ‘times are tough, they need the business but cant afford to exhibit’. One even claimed that he was only working the aisles to see if he wanted to exhibit next year!!

The other name for suitcasing and outboarding is ‘ambush marketing’, which is fairly widespread in events, particularly sporting events. Many countries have had to introduce stringent legislation against ambush marketing, when bidding for World Class events.

In South Africa, in terms of the Merchandise Marks Act, the Minister of Trade & Industry can declare certain events ‘protected events’ to protect the organisers from companies ‘riding on the coat tails’ of their event. Both the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations were declared ‘protected events’ and further covered by a host of by-laws and supporting Acts. If South Africa wants to hold more world-class events, then they must protect the interests of the stakeholders.

More and more International exhibition organisers and professional trade association are introducing their own rules, to prohibit suitcasing and outboarding. The Golf Industry Show, in Orlando, scheduled for 2014 has specified that the penalty for a first offence will require the purchase of a stand for conducting business, or immediate confiscation of their show badge and removal from the venue.

It is important to be tough on suitcasing. Non-exhibiting manufacturers/suppliers should be made aware that they will be banned from the show and future shows, if caught suitcasing. Signs should be posted at all entrances re suitcasing and the penalties. Exhibitors must perceive that Show Management is tough on suitcasers and is vigilant to stop them. Otherwise they will ultimately cause exhibitor unhappiness and show erosion’ – Chuck Schwartz, Chairman, ConvExx.

IAEE International Association of Exhibition & Events is taking a tough stance on unethical show practices and has created the ‘Suitcasing Tool Kit for Event Organisers. The toolkit is designed to help event organisers handle situations of suitcasing abuse and/or allegations that may arise at a show, in a timely, efficient and discreet manner.


EXSA is also investigating unethical practices at exhibitions.



Please contact us if you would like to discuss exhibitor or exhibition staff training.

Joy Donovan  (031)568-2145