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2020 Association Meetings: A Look at What Really Happened

ICCA’s annual statistics study provides specifics on event postponements and revenue losses, while finding good news on attendance gains with virtual events and more.

Describing its 2020 Statistics Study as “analyzing an exceptional and transformational year,” the International Congress and Convention Association published that report in mid-June, releasing some eye-popping numbers that detail the enormous effect the Covid pandemic had on association meetings around the world last year.

According to ICCA, 2019 saw 13,252 annual association meetings take place. In 2020, that dropped to 3,484, with only 841 happening in person; 2,500 of them were virtual and 143 hybrid (having both in-person and virtual attendees). The number of hybrids in 2021 is expected to be many times higher now that vaccines are widely available.

In 2020, the months of June, September, October, and November had the highest numbers of scheduled annual association meetings. Here’s the breakdown of what happened with the meetings scheduled for those months, which shows a steady rise in virtual events as associations adapted and the window for generating revenue in 2020 narrowed:

• In June, 19 percent were cancelled; 49 percent were postponed; 26 percent went virtual; and 6 percent were unaffected. None were hybrid.

• In September, 10 percent were cancelled; 52 percent were postponed; 3 percent went hybrid; 33 percent went virtual; 2 percent were unaffected

• In October, 10 percent were cancelled; 43 percent were postponed; 4 percent went hybrid; 42 percent went virtual; 1 percent were unaffected

• In November, 10 percent were cancelled; 37 percent were postponed; 4 percent went hybrid; and 46 percent went virtual; 2 percent were unaffected. 

As for year-over-year revenue loss incurred by annual association meetings around the world, the figure comes in at a staggering 84 percent. In 2019, total revenue for those events was $10.82 billion; in 2020, revenue came in at just $1.67 billion. In addition to the large numbers of cancellations and postponements, the fees for hybrid and virtual events in 2020 were far lower than the typical in-person event fee: Attendees paid $211 on average to attend a hybrid or virtual event.

The Silver Linings
The move to virtual annual meetings by many associations allowed a significantly greater number of people to attend, which could bode well for in-person attendance figures in the coming years. While the average annual meeting in 2019 saw 908 in-person attendees, the average attendance for 2020 virtual annual meetings was 1,356—a 50 percent increase.

Lastly, the number of postponed in-person meetings versus those cancelled outright are an indicator that the destinations scheduled to host those events will see them eventually. Senthil Gopinath, CEO of ICCA, says that “postponed meetings remain overall loyal to their original destination. In short, they’ll be back. And when they return, they are likely to entice larger audiences of delegates eager to meet face-to-face within the necessary safety protocols.”

Click here to read the full report.

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