Results of Association Meetings' exclusive survey indicate some ups along with the expected downside of the current economy's impact on meetings.
As I watched the wildfires rage through Southern California this fall, it was bizarre to see how one house would be left standing, fully intact, while neighboring homes were reduced to nothing but smoldering rubble. It made me think of the hit-or-miss way in which the economic woes that began just a few months ago already are affecting. Almost half of the meeting professionals we surveyed as the financial markets began to flame out this fall said their attendance was down significantly for their fall meetings. Then there were those 5 percent who actually saw their attendance grow, thriving where others saw their numbers go up in flames.
But it looks as if we can expect some accelerant to hit the fire in 2009: 72 percent said they expected to see attendance slip at least 5 percent next year, 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. As one respondent pointed out, some are expecting the economic crisis may actually have a positive effect on their meetings because it's now even more important for their attendees to stay on top of changes. For the 6 percent who are expecting a painless year, 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 said.
Those who are preparing to put out some fires are also doing what they can to mitigate the damages, mainly by increasingefforts (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). Thirty-eight percent say they plan to replace some live meetings with virtual meetings or conference calls, while 35 percent plan to find a more affordable destination or facility, 22 percent will eliminate some small meetings, and 14 percent are co-locating with an affiliated organization's meeting. See our cover story on page 20 for more ideas.
Others are finding ways to build new revenue streams by creating virtual trade shows, webcasts, and matchmaking services. To attract more attendees, planners say they are more strongly promoting to regional and local attendees, expanding their marketing efforts internationally, offering early-bird discounts, and marketing throughoutlets.
Yes, while the economy likely will still be smoldering, it appears to me that planners are all fired up to meet the challenge. Here's to kicking some ash in 2009!
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