How important are meetings to an association’s bottom line? According to research conducted by the Professional Conference Management Association in conjunction with the University of South Carolina Hotel School and outlined at a PCMA audioconference held October 5, about one quarter of respondents said that meetings revenue constituted less than 20 percent of their total income; a third said 20 to 40 percent; and the balance said 40 percent or more, with many coming in at 50 percent or higher.

Accordingly, some associations are already looking at diversifying their revenue streams, and at how they can become more flexible to be able to react quickly to future events. The challenge, according to Youngblood, will be to find ways to reduce the budget to fit the reduced attendance and sponsorships situation, without reducing the experience for attendees.

Another issue for philanthropic and charitable organizations is that the outpouring of donations to funds for September 11 victims may have an additional impact on their revenues, which already have taken a hit from the shifting economy.

Communicating with attendees and exhibitors is key to the success of near-term conventions, said audioconference participants. Even associations that sent out press releases, took out ads in industry publications, and sent broadcast faxes and e-mails to announce that the event would not be canceled found that the rumor mill still churned with talk about the show being canceled.

Most of the short-term attendee cancellations mentioned in the audioconference were from international attendees, while the majority of exhibitors staying the course. An association with a largely international meeting next summer is sending weekly updates on travel in the U.S. to international attendees to help allay their fears. Some associations were eliminating cancellation fees, and contacting the organizations that held the biggest blocks of rooms to gauge attendees’ attitudes.

PCMA Chairman of the Board James Youngblood said that associations must return to the core focus of their business: building community and uniting people around a common goal. He said that one way to address attendees’ unwillingness to travel is to explore technology options that perhaps were not thought of previously. Keep in mind though, panelists warned, that audioconferencing and other technological meeting tools aren’t free. You have to look at the cost-benefit analysis to see if a technology solution is feasible for your needs.

Another possibility is to hold more regional events and smaller meetings. Participants agreed, though, that while regional meetings work well for community-based purposes, those who represent international marketplaces can’t replace an annual meeting with a series of regional meetings, which would be impractical for international attendees and exhibitors.

Hotel cutbacks have led to worries that the hospitality industry won’t be able to produce the needed level of service for near-term meetings, but participants said the hotels were willing to bring back workers to handle the meeting and provide the same service as before September 11.

For future meetings, the consensus was that planners should be careful not to overbook their room blocks; negotiate cancellation and attrition clauses equally carefully; and make sure to have a pre-event crisis plan that incorporates communication strategies in place.

For full coverage of the aftermath of 9/11, go to Meetingsnet 9/11 Special Report