ASAE and The Center’s new economic impact study on how 8,500 members of 97 associations are reacting to today’s economy came up with some expected results—past attendance is the best predictor of future plans, for example—but there also were some surprises.

Despite worries that restrictions in corporate travel will force people to move to virtual meetings, 9 percent of association-member respondents who attended only virtual meetings last year said they would only meet face to face in 2009, while just 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, and 6 percent met only virtually in 2008. (Twenty-two percent of respondents did not attend an association meeting in 2008.)

A spot of good news for association meeting planners is that 58 percent of those who attended an association meeting last year said they would do the same in 2009. The bad news is that a third of those who did attend last year said they were unlikely to repeat that behavior, and only 10 percent of those who did not go to association meetings in 2008 said they were likely to go this year. 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. But hopes that they can make it up by adding webinars may be in vain, the study results suggest.

“Four out of 10 associations are expecting their revenue from online education to increase,” according to a white paper on the study, “Impact Study: Beliefs, Behaviors, and Attitudes in Response to the Economy.” 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,” the white paper reports. 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 them,” according to the white paper.

Of course, what members intend to do all depends on whether or not they expect to have a job when the time for the annual meeting rolls around. Those who anticipated a worsening job situation said they were much less likely to attend any type of association meeting this year —virtual or live, multiday conference or one-day seminar—than those who felt their job outlook was fairly stable.

For more results, go to www.asaecenter.org/economy.

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