Ten years ago, the economy was booming and Hawaii hosted its largest association meeting ever, the American Dental Association, which brought 31,000 participants to Honolulu. In October 2009, ADA returned to Hawaii. But with the country in the midst of an economic crisis and the healthcare industry under scrutiny about holding meetings in what are perceived as resort destinations, this fall's meeting attracted 6,000 fewer people than it did in 1999. And that's OK.

“We are very proud of those numbers in this economy, with this distance,” says Jim Goodman, managing vice president of the division of meetings and conference services at ADA. Just under 25,000 people came to the meeting in Hawaii, which was about 15 percent fewer than the 2008 meeting in San Antonio. Where ADA took the biggest hit was with exhibitor attendees. “Typically, the number of exhibitor attendees we have is between 7,500 and 8,500: this year we only had around 4,000,” says Goodman.

The Hawai‘i Convention Center simply didn't have the space to accommodate any more exhibits than the show garnered, and exhibiting companies generally sent fewer people than they usually do due to the economy, the travel distance, and perhaps even the “perception” issue, says Goodman.

However, these factors did not affect professional attendees, which was roughly equal to what ADA had for its 2008 meeting in San Antonio. “Most of our attendees are in private practice, so for them to determine whether they could come or not is truly a personal decision,” Goodman says.

And lest anyone think that it was all fun in the sun, Goodman said the number of hours of CME taken was staggering. “The average doctor took almost three courses and most of our courses are two and a half hours long,” he says. ADA found that adjusting the schedule to start earlier, about 7 a.m., and end earlier, around 3 p.m., worked well for attendees.

“The traffic in the hall and the ratio of buyer to seller has probably never been better,” says Goodman. Consequently, the post-show surveys show a high level of exhibitor satisfaction, higher than the two previous years.

ADA, which has met in Hawaii every 10 years since 1989, has not yet determined whether it will return to Hawaii in 2019, but it will be considered, given the high rates of exhibitor and attendee satisfaction. In October 2010, ADA heads to Orlando.