Convention and visitors bureaus across the country are reporting that medical meetings and convention business is for the most part holding strong for 2002. “We have 27 citywides booked for next year, and about half of those are medical or medical-related. We're excited about that, because we're confident that their attendance is going to hold steady in 2002,” says Jim Herrmann, vice president of convention sales with the Philadelphia CVB. “If there's one type of attendee that comes to a meeting, it's the doctors.”

The Washington, D.C. Convention and Tourism Corp. also says that the medical field has been hanging tough. “We have several medical meetings scheduled for 2002; fortunately, our convention center business has been holding strong in the wake of the attacks. We haven't had any major cancellations (aside from IMF/World Bank),” says Rebecca Pawlowski, a spokesperson for the CTC.

“I can't say medical groups are the major segment for us, but they're growing,” despite the slowing economy and the events of September 11, says Bob Bedell, president and CEO of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission.

“We just concluded the American Dietetic Association, which had 7,100 people and used 3,200 rooms peak night. They had some slippage, but they were very happy with their attendance.”

The view from beyond the U.S. borders is not as bright. Though medical meetings are still holding in Chicago, Deborah Sexton, executive vice president of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, says that those with a large international component may see overseas constituent attendance reductions. “That's because of visa issues,” she says. “It's a tougher process short-term, which hopefully will be straightened out.”

In San Francisco, “We're finding that for every domestic person who cancels, there are probably two international people who aren't getting on the plane to the conference,” says Mark Theis, vice president of the San Francisco CVB's conference division. For example, the American Society of Nephrology's mid-October meeting was off about 4,000 from its anticipated 13,000 attendance. “Of that 4,000, about 60 percent was international delegates,” he says. The American Academy of Pediatrics, also held in San Francisco in mid-October, saw only about a 10 percent slippage.

Bright Spots Ahead?

Atlanta's Howard notes that while conventions are not being canceled, reduced attendance was very much an issue as of early November.

“We're seeing a 20 to 25 percent drop-off in attendance for the major conventions we're hosting. The good news is that attendance is starting to creep back up. The further we get from September 11, the less attrition we're starting to see.” He also says that “entertainment and extracurricular activities are taking a beating. A lot of meetings are adjusting their programs to fit a budget based on a reduced attendee forecast.”

But generally, CVBs say, the outlook is good. “The convention market is the one leg of our three-legged stool that's not wobbling,” says Theis. “The business travel segment is essentially gone, and the leisure market is just starting to climb back up. But meetings, particularly medical meetings, are relatively healthy.”