The most recent AHR Expo in Chicago drew a record 1,800 exhibitors and about 58,000 attendees. A bigger trade show in a related industry is the National Restaurant Association Restaurant-Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago each May, which has about 2,000 exhibitors and 100,000 attendees.

Then there is ISH — the International Trade Fair for Building & Energy Technology in Frankfurt, Germany, which, in comparison, seems to dwarf U.S. shows. The most recent ISH show this past March drew 2,300 exhibitors and up to 200,000 visitors.

(It should be noted that the show’s air conditioning aspect comprised a little more than 200 of the exhibitors. The bulk was plumbing-related and, in fact, the expo was popularly labeled “The Bathroom Experience.”)

A show that big raises questions from HVACR folks in the United States:

  • Can you get to the host city for such a show fairly easily?

  • Are there enough hotels and motels?

  • Can you easily and cost effectively get from the hotels to the convention center?

  • Is there enough room at the convention center?

  • Are the attendees going to buy my product?

    I usually travel to Germany each fall for the IKK show in my role as refrigeration editor of The News; IKK has more than 800 exhibitors, most of them refrigeration-related. This year was my first trip to ISH. My first impressions give a yes to each of those questions.

    Efficiency Reigns

    The Frankfurt airport is a major hub for all of Europe. The huge board showing flight information indicated that at least a dozen North American cities are linked to Frankfurt by nonstop flights. German customs agents are pleasant and efficient.

    I don’t have a handle on hotel space, but I didn’t hear much grumbling from attendees concerning their accommodations. My hotel near the airport was quiet and comfortable, with all printed information in both German and English and several English language TV stations.

    Public transportation is a joy to use. Tourists can secure a multi-day pass to use for most all forms of transportation within the city. You don’t have to drop in exact change every time you board a subway, train, trolley, or bus. In fact, you seldom have to show your pass. (However, if you are asked by an official to show a pass or a ticket and you don’t have one, you face a very stiff fine.).

    From my hotel, I could take a free shuttle back to the airport to catch the electric train that ran every few minutes to the main train station in downtown Frankfurt, about a 10-minute trip. From there I could take another train two stops to the Messe, site of the expo, or just walk about 10 minutes from downtown to the expo along a main street filled with stores, restaurants, and pubs.

    The 2,300 exhibitors, including some with massive exhibits, still didn’t fill the entire Messe complex. Frankfurt has a history of trade fairs that goes back to the 11th century, so it prides itself on being able to be what we in the States would call a convention city.


    One measurement of the value of ISH to exhibitors is that their numbers have steadily increased over the years. The show only takes place every other year, thus increasing interest when it does roll around.

    One other interesting aspect to the expo was that while the first four days were for those within the industries represented, the fifth and final day was an open house of sorts for anybody who paid about a $20 entrance fee to check out the exhibits.

    The organizers have recently begun offering ISH North America, this past year in Toronto and this coming October in Las Vegas. They are trying to recreate the concept of the Frankfurt show — that of a show in which HVACR is one component, but in which other building trades, such as plumbing, are featured as well. It’s a work in progress.

    I mean, Las Vegas has plenty to do and great restaurants, but it will take some doing to top sitting in the Romerburg historic section of Frankfurt and gazing at the beautiful Alte Nikolaikirche, or sitting in a tiny restaurant on the way back from the Messe one night and having the best pork chops ever cooked by a mortal.

    Peter Powell is refrigeration editor. He can be reached at 847-622-7260, 847-622-7266 (fax), or

    Publication date: 05/05/2003