Association meetings account for about $30 billion in spending annually, with attendee expenditures accounting for $26 billion and association spending $4 billion. That's one of the preliminary estimates of the size of the association meetings market presented in phase one of the Economic Indicators Study, conducted by The Center for Association Leadership, Washington, D.C.

The goal of the three-phase research project is to determine the size and economic muscle of the association community, specifically to help the supplier membership of the Center/ASAE. (The Center merged with the American Society of Association Executives this spring.)

“We decided to look at those data sets that are of importance to the suppliers to help them with the decision-making process as it relates to working with their association customers,” says Michelle Mason, vice president of research programs for the Center and staff liaison for the Center's Economic Indicators Task Force, which was formed a year ago. Mickey Schaefer, CAE, American Academy of Family Physicians; Michelle Ross, Wachovia Corp.; Anetha Grant, Nashville CVB; and Jeffrey Morgan, CAE, Futures Industry Association, are the other task force members.

In phase one of the project, the task force asked suppliers what they would like to know about association meetings, and the response was twofold: what is the true size of the association market is, and how associations make destination and facility decisions.

Through a review of secondary research (published surveys, articles, etc.), the task force concluded that the true size of the association market is currently unknown; existing data and surveys are hard to compare and verify, thanks in part to the fact that there are no norms for the collection or formatting of data, nor for reporting. However, based on existing research, the task force announced this past summer at the ASAE annual meeting some “hypotheses” regarding the economic impact of association meetings. (See “Highlights” box at left.)

The task force also surveyed meeting planners on how destination and venues decisions are made. The responses provided a foundation that the committee can build upon with the professional research firm in phase two of the project, which will focus on gathering research and data from the hospitality industry. A research firm is expected to be on board early next year. Phase three of the project, Mason says, will involve “comprehensive research, spanning a broad range of industries and associations.”

Highlights of Economic Impact Findings

  • Associations hold a total of 190,000 meetings annually with a collective attendance of about 28 million people.

  • Of those 190,000 meetings, 11,800 are conventions while the other 177,700 are categorized as “other” meetings.

  • An estimated 12.5 million people attend the 11,800 conventions while a total of 15.9 million attend the other association meetings.

  • The average association has about 18 meetings per year, with the majority of meetings held at hotels as opposed to convention centers.

  • The largest organizations spend just over 5 percent of their annual budget on meetings, while those with budgets of under $1 million spend almost 15 percent on meetings.