Association meetings in today's economy

Well, the results of our survey on how the economy is affecting association meetings are in. Read 'em and weep:

When it comes to the fall of 2008, association meeting planners are reporting almost a 50/50 split: 46 percent who participated in a recent AM survey say their attendance held steady at meetings that took place since the financial markets began fishtailing in September, while 49 percent say their attendance was down 5 percent or more. And a lucky 5 percent actually saw some gains for their annual meetings this fall. But few expect next year’s results to be as relatively rosy.

Seventy-two percent said they expected to see attendance slip at least 5 percent for their 2009 annual meeting, more than half are tightening their belts in anticipation of significantly reduced sponsorship revenues, and 40 percent are expecting a 5 percent or greater reduction in exhibition-related revenues. Ouch. As one respondent said, “Many of our members pay their own way. I’m getting feedback about rising airline tickets and job layoffs. Money is tight, and it’s affecting all layers of meeting planning.”

Not everyone is expecting the worst, though. Some are expecting the economic crisis may actually have a positive affect on their meetings because of the “importance of staying on top of changes, and staying in the consumer top of mind,” as one respondent says. For the 6 percent who are expecting a painless year next year, they say their outlook isn’t wishful thinking; vendors are using limited funds to reach their targeted market, they say, and their organizations are more focused on better defining the value of the program to attendees and suppliers. And, of course, “People need to network more when the economy is bad,” as one respondent pointed out. This optimistic group is anticipating gains mostly in attendance (85 percent), though about 14 percent think they also will increase sponsorships and exhibits.

Those who are preparing for a tougher year are also doing what they can to mitigate the damages, mainly by increasing marketing efforts (73 percent), negotiating lower food and beverage minimums (38 percent), and cutting services and/or programs they usually offer at their annual meetings (38 percent). Holding more virtual meetings also is an option for those looking to cut meeting costs, with 38 percent saying they plan to replace some live meetings with virtual meetings or conference calls. Other cost-cutting options they plan to implement include changing to a more affordable destination or facility (35 percent), eliminating some small meetings (22 percent), and co-locating with an affiliated organization’s meeting (14 percent). Some planners wrote in that they were planning to cut costs in AV, F&B, and special events; others by shortening the duration of their meeting.

On the positive side, many also were looking to find ways to build new revenue streams for their 2009 meetings. Among the new sponsorship possibilities being tossed around are creating virtual trade shows, webcasts, and match-making services. To attract more attendees, planners say they are more strongly promoting to regional and local attendees, promoting more heavily to African American and Hispanic attendees, expanding their marketing efforts internationally, offering early-bird discounts, and using social media outlets (“which are free or inexpensive,” as one respondent noted) to promote the annual meeting.

Does this align with what you're seeing/feeling/anticipating/dreading? (Many, many thanks to all of you who took the time to take our survey. You are the best.)

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