ASAE and The Center's economic impact study on how 8,500 members of 97 associations are reacting to today's economy came up with some expected answers — past attendance is the best predictor of future plans, for example — but there also were some surprises. Despite worries that corporate travel restrictions will force people to meet virtually, just 9 percent of association member respondents who attended only virtual meetings in 2008 said they would meet only face to face in 2009 (6 percent of the total met only virtually in 2008); while only 3 percent of those who attended only live meetings in 2008 said they planned to go solely virtual this year. Thirty-four percent said they participated in meetings both in-person and virtually last year; 38 percent met only in person.

Which means that associations' hope that they can make up live conference shortfalls by adding webinars may be in vain.

“Four out of 10 associations are expecting their revenue from online education to increase,” reports a white paper on the study. This is “an expectation that might be a rude awakening for associations given that members seem loath to migrate from in-person to online activities.”

And that shortfall may be coming. While 58 percent of the 72 percent who attended an association meeting last year said they would do the same in 2009, a third of those who did attend last year said they were unlikely to go in 2009. In fact, the study found that 80 percent of association executives are expecting a shortfall in revenues from their trade shows and conferences in 2009.

Regional meetings also might take a hit, study results suggest. While 75 percent of those who traveled more than 300 miles on their farthest trip in 2008 said they'd do the same this year, only two-thirds of those who traveled less than 300 miles last year thought they'd travel the same distance in 2009. “This may suggest that while members remain committed to larger events that are likely to be held farther from home, such as annual meetings, they may be planning on cutting back on shorter trips to help finance [the trips to the larger events],” says the white paper.

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Results Matter

Why you should encourage your exhibitors to measure their trade show results: North American companies that have a process for post-event measurement are twice as likely to receive increases in their marketing budgets than those that do not. That's according to EventView 2009: North America, the annual survey of sales and marketing executives that looks at the role of face-to-face events in the marketing mix. The study is a collaboration of the Meeting Professionals International Foundation, the Event Marketing Institute, and George P. Johnson.