Meetings, conventions, exhibitions, and incentive travel generated $122.3 billion in direct spending in the United States last year, according to the Convention Industry Council's Economic Impact Study, released in September. Corporate meetings and events comprised one-third of that, or $40.3 billion; association events accounted for the rest.

“What the study says more than anything else is that the industry is incredibly resilient,” says Mary Power, CIC's president and CEO. “We saw some of the greatest growth up to 1999, then we had the devastating effects for two years after 9-11, and now it is coming back strong again,” she says. “The recovery [indicates] that the industry takes the bumps in stride and is fairly quick to rebuild.” Between 2003 and 2004, direct spending rose about $3 billion.

Conducted for CIC by Veris Consulting LLC, Reston, Va., the study was compiled from various sources, including the ExPact Study by Destination Management Association International and statistics from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research and the Travel Industry Association. Other findings:

  • The industry employs 1.7 million people on a full-time basis, and is the 29th-largest contributor to the country's gross national product. Although the meeting industry is not listed on the GNP, based on CIC's numbers, it would fall between the “nursing and residential care facilities” and “pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing” industries.

  • Looking at types of meetings, conventions and exhibitions account for $67.9 billion, or 55.5 percent, of the total direct spending pie. Corporate and association meetings generated $48.1 billion in spending, or 39.4 percent of the total, while incentive travel made up the remaining 5.1 percent, generating $6.2 billion in spending. (Conventions and exhibitions are defined as events where exhibitions make up the largest component of the meeting, while meetings have a larger meetings component.)

  • The largest share of the convention and exhibition dollar, 35 percent, is spent in hotels. The rest is widely distributed throughout local economies, with 24 percent spent on air transportation, 14 percent in restaurants, and 12 percent on business services.

CIC last issued an economic impact report in 1994. That study found that the industry generated $82.8 billion in direct spending, with conventions and exhibitions accounting for 63.1 percent, corporate and association meetings for 32.6 percent, and incentive travel for about 4.2 percent. The increase in meetings is reflective of the recent trend toward regional meetings, Power says.

“One of the primary purposes of the report is to gain recognition from government of the value of the meetings and exhibition industry. We are sharing the information with all our member organizations for their use in dealing with state, regional and federal governments,” says Power.