Our second-annual survey of the effects of the economy on Association Meetings readers confirms what has been observed since we did the first survey last November: 2009 was a very difficult year. Attendance was down at their annual meetings, sponsorships and exhibitor attendance suffered, some planners faced attrition penalties, and a few had to cancel their largest meeting.

There is some optimism for 2010, or at least a belief that the bottom has been reached: 38.5 percent of meeting planners believe 2010 attendance at their largest meeting will be better than 2009, and another 41 percent expect no change in attendance from 2009.

The online survey, conducted in early November, asked questions regarding 2009 experiences and 2010 expectations. There were 42 respondents.

Here are the attendance results: 72 percent of respondents said overall attendance for their primary meeting was down. Of that total: 36 percent had a decrease of 1 to 19 percent, 31 percent had a decrease of 20 to 34 percent, and 5 percent had a decrease of 35 to 49 percent. Nearly 8 percent said attendance was unchanged, while 12.8 percent had an increase of 1 to 19 percent, and 7 percent experienced an attendance increase of 20 percent or more.

Weak attendance has consequences, and 19 percent of meeting planners said they had to pay attrition penalties in 2009. Another 22 percent said they faced attrition but were able to negotiate it down or eliminate it.

We also asked planners if their meeting-staff levels have changed, compared to a year ago. Thirty-five percent reported a decrease in staff, 62.5 percent said there was no change, and 2.5 percent said they had a staff increase. Of those with decreased staff levels, 67 percent said they have worked longer hours, 24 percent said they have moved some work functions to outside vendors, and 19 percent said they used technology to increase efficiency.

Looking Ahead to 2010
Association meeting planners see slight attendance improvements for 2010.

Thirty-eight percent of planners expect attendance of their primary attendees/members at their largest meeting in 2010 to be better than 2009; 41 percent expect no change in 2010. Of those who expected an uptick, 36 percent of planners think attendance will increase 1 to 19 percent, and 2.6 percent of the planners expect attendance to increase 20 percent or more.

In the realm of cost cutting for 2010, 45 percent expect to move at least one meeting to a more affordable destination or facility, 38 percent plan to replace some live meetings with virtual meetings or conference calls, 24 percent expect to eliminate some small meetings, and 19 percent expect to replace a large meeting with regional or smaller meetings.

To increase attendance in 2010, 82 percent of planners expect to raise their use of e-mail promotion, while 72 percent plan to use social media.

Survey Results

1. Did you hold your largest regularly scheduled meeting as planned in 2009?
Yes 92.9%
No 7.1%

2. How did overall attendance at your largest regularly scheduled meeting compare with attendance at the same meeting in 2008?
Increase of 20 percent or more 7.7%
Increase of 1 to 19 percent 12.8%
No change 7.7%
Decrease of 1 to 19 percent 35.9%
Decrease of 20 to 34 percent 30.8%
Decrease of 35 to 49 percent 5.1%

3. At your largest regularly scheduled meeting in 2009, how was the attendance of your primary
attendees/members affected?
Increase of 1 to 19 percent 17.9%
No change 15.4%
Decrease of 1 to 19 percent 33.3%
Decrease of 20 to 34 percent 23.1%
Decrease of 35 to 49 percent 10.3%

4. At your largest regularly scheduled meeting in 2009, how was the attendance of your exhibitors/sponsors affected?
Increase of 20 percent or more 5.6%
Increase of 1 to 19 percent 8.3%
No change 11.1%
Decrease of 1 to 19 percent 52.8%
Decrease of 20 to 34 percent 11.1%
Decrease of 35 to 49 percent 11.1%

5. If you experienced lower attendance than anticipated at your largest 2009 meeting, did attrition penalties come into play?
Yes, we had to pay attrition penalties for our 2009 meeting. 19.4%
We owed attrition for our 2009 meeting but were able to negotiate it down or eliminate it. 22.2%
No, we did not experience an attrition penalty for our 2009 meeting. 36.1%
Not applicable: No shortfall occurred. 22.2%

6. If your meetings had attendance shortfalls, did you try to renegotiate terms with your suppliers?
Yes 71.4%
No 28.6%

7. If your hotel supplier was willing to renegotiate, how did you mitigate?
Lowered room rate 45.5%
Negotiated lower F&B minimums 27.3%
Increased our F&B use 9.1%
Tried to invoke force majeure clause to mitigate attendance shortfall 0%
Supplier offered to increased efforts to attract attendees 4.5%
Promised to bring future business to hotel or venue 59.1%

8. If you had to cancel your largest meeting in 2009, did you pay cancellation fees?
Yes 40.0%
No 60.0%

9. Do you plan to hold your largest regularly scheduled meeting in 2010?
Yes 95.1%
No 4.9%

10. How do you expect overall attendance at your largest regularly scheduled meeting in 2010 to compare with attendance at the same meeting in 2009?
Increase of 20 percent or more 2.6%
Increase of 1 to 19 percent 35.9%
No change 41.0%
Decrease of 1 to 19 percent 12.8%
Decrease of 20 to 34 percent 7.7%

11. At your largest regularly scheduled meeting in 2010, what do you expect from primary attendees/members compared to 2009?
Increase of 20 percent or more 2.6%
Increase of 1 to 19 percent 35.9%
No change 41.0%
Decrease of 1 to 19 percent 12.8%
Decrease of 20 to 34 percent 5.1%
Decrease of 35 to 49 percent 2.6%

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12. At your largest regularly scheduled meeting in 2010, what do you expect from exhibitors/sponsors compared to 2009?
Increase of 20 percent or more 5.4%
Increase of 1 to 19 percent 29.7%
No change 48.6%
Decrease of 1 to 19 percent 5.4%
Decrease of 20 to 34 percent 8.1%
Decrease of 35 to 49 percent 0.0%
Decrease of 50 percent or more 2.7%

13. If you expect lower attendance at your largest 2010 meeting, do you expect attrition penalties to come into play?
Yes, we expect to pay attrition penalties for our 2010 meeting. 0.0%
We expect to owe attrition, but we expect to be able to negotiate it down or eliminate it. 17.9%
No, we do not expect an attrition penalty for our 2010 meeting. 82.1%

14. If your largest 2010 meeting has attendance shortfalls, will you try to renegotiate terms with your suppliers?
Yes 86.1%
No 13.9%

15. If your supplier is willing to renegotiate, how will you mitigate?
Decrease the room rate 48.4%
Decrease F&B minimums 41.9%
Increase our F&B use 12.9%
Try to invoke force majeure clause to mitigate attendance shortfall 3.2%
Supplier will increase efforts to attract attendees 16.1%
Promise to bring future business to hotel or venue 45.2%

16. Looking at all of the meetings your organization holds in a year, please check the boxes that describe what you expect to do in 2010 to cut costs.
Replace large meeting with regional or smaller meetings 19.0%
Eliminate some small meetings 23.8% 10
Replace some live meetings with virtual meetings or conference calls 38.1%
Change to a more affordable destination/facility 45.2%
Will not make any changes to cut costs 19.0%

17. What strategies are you planning to use to increase attendance at your 2010 meeting(s)?
Work with CVBs to market destinations 38.5%
Increase promotional mailings 38.5%
Increase e-mail promotion 82.1%
Use social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) to promote meetings 71.8%
Create campaigns specific to each attendee segment your organization serves 46.2%
Use personal outreach from board members/staff 59.0%
Use personal outreach from active members 30.8%

18. Please check the box that best describes your organization’s meeting-staffing level, compared to one year ago.
Fewer staff 35.0%
No change 62.5%
More staff 2.5%

19. If your meeting-staff levels have decreased, please check the boxes that describe how you have responded.
Used technology to increase productivity 19.0%
Moved some work functions to outside vendors 23.8%
Worked longer hours 66.7%
I have made no changes 28.6%