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AN EDITOR'S “HAPPY new year” column is usually reserved for the magazine's January issue. But I'm writing mine a month early because like many in the event industry, I'm eager to say hello to 2003 and kiss 2002 goodbye.

Last year, the chilling aftermath of 9/11 squelched the plans of many corporations to host holiday parties. Although the initial jolt was severe, particularly in the Northeast region of the United States, business seemed to pick up after year-end.

This year is different. A variety of factors has conspired to put a damper on special events.

Although the U.S. economy made headway in the third quarter, the roller-coaster stock market has made both business and consumers skittish about spending money. Continued turmoil in international politics has made travelers around the world nervous about leaving home. Finally, revelations of unethical corporate conduct have made even good-citizen companies nervous about appearing to spend money frivolously. I had a hard time finishing reading an article in the Wall Street Journal in September that recounted in vivid detail (down to the Michelangelo's David ice sculpture dispensing vodka cocktails) the $2.1 million birthday party that a corporate chieftain (later indicted) threw for his wife — an event paid for in part with company funds.

This strange brew of 2002 seems to have done the impossible — it's made shrinking event production cycles shrink even further.

A Nov. 1 report from international outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said that with only weeks to go, many companies are still on the fence about how to stage their traditional holiday party. Management must decide how to balance its fear about appearing profligate to shareholders with the real need to give employees the morale boost they so deserve.

In the face of this bad news are the reports I hear firsthand from all segments of the event industry — party rental, event planners, hotels and resorts — that, for the moment, they're busy. The events may be different from years past — sit-down dinners morph into luncheons and receptions, the pricey look of luxe is replaced with the streamlined, less expensive lounge look. And way too often, the comment that “we're busy right now” is followed by “and we pray it stays that way!” A recent article from Reuters news service touts the comeback of the annual holiday party this year, noting that party planners are “exhilarated” at the trend.

Study after study that Special Events Magazine has commissioned this year points to a widespread sentiment that 2003 will bring a boost in business for the event industry. That's something we are all looking forward to.

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