The vendors, on the other hand, argue that they are suffering in the weak economy and that the rock-bottom rates offered by some hotels help them stretch their marketing budgets.
Caught in the middle of this tug of war are the hotels, which are increasingly being asked to keep out the interlopers.
While unsanctioned exhibits are not new, they appear to be on the rise. They became an issue at the annual Consumer Electronics Show last month in Las Vegas, one of the largest trade shows in the United States. According to technology bloggers and others attending the show, hotel security people forced some vendors to vacate suites in which they were demonstrating products.
“Outboarding is wrong,” said Jason Oxman, the senior vice president of industry affairs for the Consumer Electronics Association, which produces the Consumer Electronics Show each January. “An outboarder takes advantage of the significant investment a trade show makes.”
But Mr. Oxman denied that the association had stepped up enforcement against the vendors, suggesting that the crackdown was instituted by the hotels themselves. “Our antennas are raised for people that try and circumvent the show process,” said Ron Reese, vice president of communications for Las Vegas Sands, the parent company of two official show hotels, the Palazzo Las Vegas and the Venetian Las Vegas. He said the association spent tens of millions each year promoting and producing the show, which draws 120,000 participants. Professional exhibit managers who play by the rules and pay to exhibit also resent vendors who come to town but do not exhibit on the trade show floor, he said.
Nor is the electronics association alone in its sentiments about the outside vendors. “This instance with the C.E.S. is going to raise some awareness,” said John Foster, a convention industry lawyer. Although the show took place only last month, Mr. Foster said he had already been approached by several organizers of smaller events eager to learn how they could thwart the outside exhibitors. “Whenever you get a big show that goes through an incident like this, that publicity generates a lot of interest in how to stop the problem,” he added.
The electronics association pointed to a long-standing policy prohibiting any type of consumer electronics-related events taking place in Las Vegas over the show dates. Mr. Oxman acknowledged, though, that this rule was almost impossible to enforce if vendors choose from among the many hotels in Las Vegas that do not have a contract with the association.
“Everybody does it,” said one hardware vendor who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid speaking out publicly against the electronics association, which retaliates against vendors who run unsanctioned events by stripping them of the points a vendor can earn by exhibiting legitimately. More points translate to a better selection of show floor space for future shows. Those with no points to forfeit can be kicked out of the association.
The vendor said her company chose the Palazzo because it was inexpensive, and received a verbal assurance that its exhibit would be permitted.
What happened instead, she said, was that hotel security forced the company to dismantle its demonstrations and remove all product-marketing materials. The vendor referred to the eviction as the result of a “miscommunication.” Mr. Reese of the Sands said all guests were presented with criteria for their stay upon check-in; a prohibition on in-room exhibiting is among the rules.
Bob Buskirk, who attended the electronics show and owns a Web site, ThinkComputers, that reviews hardware and software products, said he had “never been kicked out of a hotel room or even heard of companies being kicked out.” But this January, he said, two of his meetings were disrupted when the vendors were ejected by hotel security. “From what I’ve heard anecdotally, the amount of unlicensed vendors was certainlly the most it’s been in recent memory,” said Mr. Reese of the Sands.