Meeting Performance: Up and Away Reflecting the strong national economy, association meetings and trade shows continue to enjoy a healthy growth in attendance, revenues, and expenditures. Nearly half of our respondents reported an increase in attendance at their largest annual event in 1997, while 58 percent said expenditures for that event also grew, and a slightly smaller percentage said revenues associated with their largest annual event in 1997 had increased as well. (See charts below.) These findings correspond to those in this magazine's last three trend surveys, continuing a strong growth pattern for association events.

Of those respondents with trade shows, 49.4 percent said the number of exhibitors at their largest annual event had increased in 1997; 38.6 percent said growth was flat in this area, and only 12 percent saw a decrease.

Meanwhile, 47.8 percent said their trade show square footage had increased in 1997, while 45.9 percent reported no change. Thirty-five percent of all respondents said the number of their small meetings in 1997 was up from the year before. However, as in last year's survey, most respondents said the number of their small meetings held steady in 1997.

More associations are obviously looking for ways to generate more revenues around their annual events: 41 percent of respondents said the percent of event revenue generated by registration fees would increase in 1998 (compared to 34.3 percent of respondents last year), while 30.3 percent said the percentage of event revenue created by sponsorships would increase in 1998, up ten percent from the previous year. A much greater share of readers (38.8 percent this year, up 13.8 percent) said revenues generated by exhibit sales would increase as well. As a result, attendees and exhibitors may find their costs going up--and both will probably be seeing more sponsor logos at their events.

Further, our survey found that more respondents are outsourcing trade show management (26.7 percent compared to 14.3 percent last year), as well as site selection (15.8 compared to 7.1 percent). The largest percentage of respondents indicated that they outsource convention housing (52 percent this year compared to 69 percent last year), followed by floor management (30 percent versus 31 percent), then exhibit booth sales (22.5 versus 16.7 percent).

Issues and Answers: Keeping Meetings Affordable It's all about the bottom line for attendees and exhibitors--at least when it comes to association meetings and trade shows. For the fourth year in a row, the top concern for association executives was keeping their meetings affordable.

Respondents were asked to rank their concern for each item on a scale of 1 to 6, with 6 being of great concern.

Percentages reflect percent of respondents who ranked their concern as either five or six.

Building meeting/trade show revenues eclipsed dealing with facility contracts as the second greatest area of concern this year, with facility contracts falling to fourth place. (See chart below.) Getting preferred dates and/or facilities remained the third greatest concern for our readers, while hotel attrition clauses placed fifth, followed by keeping up with technology for meetings.

Third-party hotel commissions has practically slipped off the radar screen. Last year it ranked seventh in concerns, this year 11th, just behind building international participation at meetings and trade shows, which continues to rank at the bottom half of our respondents' concerns.

In today's seller's market, the most popular tactic for keeping meetings affordable remained increasing sponsorship dollars (57.2 percent this year, 51 percent last year). Raising registration fees, however, moved up to second place from last year's third place, followed by cutting back on food and beverage programming, and choosing less expensive venues and destinations for meetings.

We asked which second-tier cities readers were considering or had booked for a meeting. Albuquerque received the most responses, but other frequently mentioned cities were Birmingham, Ala.; Charlotte, N.C.; Cincinnati and Cleveland; Minneapolis; San Diego; and metro Washington, D.C.

As far as other cost-cutting tactics go, holding joint meetings with other organizations moved up to fifth place from sixth last year, and increasing exhibit fees moved down to sixth place from fifth. Only 13 percent of respondents said they would use more videoconferencing to cut back meeting costs, up two percent from last year's survey.

Hotels beware: When asked if they thought the seller's market had caused hotels to take unfair advantage of meetings business, a resounding 63 percent of respondents said yes (up from 58.8 last year), while 14 percent said no, and 23 percent said they were not sure.

Housing continues to be a contentious issue. Nearly half of our respondents (48 percent) thought hotels should pay housing-services fees--up three percent from last year. Twenty-one percent thought attendees should pay these fees, ten percent said CVBs, and nine percent said associations.

Asked whether the industry should develop standards for handling the housing process and for processing fees, 47.4 percent said yes, 42 percent said they weren't sure, and the rest said no. These results indicate a ten percent increase in planners who think that standards should be set by the industry--a trend to watch.

Technology: Issues and Usage This year we asked what software readers primarily use to plan or manage meetings. Nearly 30 percent of respondents said that they use custom/proprietary programs, while 24.6 percent named iMIS and 21.7 percent said MS Access. Smaller percentages indicated they use Filemaker Pro, Fox Pro, PC Nametag, Dbase, and Meeting Trak (in that order) primarily for meeting planning and management purposes.

Web site usage continues to climb: this year 79.8 percent of respondents said they used a Web page to promote meetings, compared to 75.9 percent last year. (See sidebar and chart, page 34.) In fact, use of various technologies climbed significantly in practically all categories compared to last year.

When asked if videoconferencing or computer-conducted conferences would have a negative impact on their meetings or trade shows, 60.3 percent said no, 27.8 percent weren't sure, and 11 percent said yes. These results show a ten percent increase in respondents who think these types of conferences may have a negative impact on meeting and trade show attendance--another trend worth watching.

Some of the most interesting survey responses were in answer to the question: What is your biggest technology-related challenge when it comes to meetings and trade shows? Managing the costs of technology--both internally with staff, and externally with attendees and suppliers--was the most frequently expressed concern. In particular, many respondents mentioned the skyrocketing cost of audiovisual rentals, as well as the escalating cost of Internet access at the meeting site. Inconsistent Internet service on-site was another concern.

As far as the Internet goes, a frequent theme was the desire to use it for more meeting applications, such as registration, exhibit booth sales, and advertising sales. Some respondents were concerned about the security of electronic commerce, while many others simply wondered whether they could get their members to use the Internet at all, since many of them did not have access to computers.

Inability to use technology is a problem not just for some association members. One respondent replied in all capital letters: "Hotels, meeting planners, convention centers, and CVBs need to communicate with each other using technology." Another lamented that hotels were not able to process directly attendee reservations made via the Internet. Several were shocked that their hotel contacts did not have e-mail. Clearly, when it comes to use of technology within the association meetings community, levels of sophistication vary widely.

Salary Update: Wage Gap Narrows? In this year's survey, more of our respondents were women than last year--64 percent female respondents this year versus 55 percent last year. About 25 percent of all respondents were chief paid executives, 40 percent were meeting managers or directors, six percent were exposition managers or directors, and the remaining categorized themselves as "other." Titles in the "other" category ranged from education manager to marketing director to assistant executive director.

In the chief paid executive category, the mean (average) annual salary for all respondents was $71,500, the median (or the mid-salary in the range) $74,950. For male CEOs, the mean and median salaries were $73,480 and $81,230, respectively. For female CEOs, the mean and median salaries were $66,210 and $58,940. Though a gender wage gap continues to show up in our survey, the gap was much less than in last year's survey of CEO salaries, where there was a $38,390 differential between the median salaries of men and women.

That gap disappears in the meeting manager/directory category, where the mean salary was $44,990, and the median $44,930. The mean salary for male meeting managers/directors was $44,950 and the median $51,240. For females in this title category, the mean was $44,990 and the median was $44,210.

A much more dramatic wage differential manifested in our sample of exposition directors/managers, where the male mean salary was $74,340, the median $69,950. For females, the mean was $48,160, while the median was $46,580. That's a nearly $27,000 wage differential in average salaries for men and women in this category. For both genders, the mean and median salaries in this category were $57,680 and $57,450, respectively.

We cross-tabbed our salary data by type of association. We found that in most cases trade associations paid better salaries than professional societies. For instance, male chief paid executives earned an average salary of $77,130 at trade organizations--$14,320 more than the average for their male peers at professional associations. The average salary for male meeting directors/managers at trade groups was $51,620, about $10,000 more than the average for male peers at professional organizations--and for female peers within trade organizations.

However, the average salary for female exposition managers/directors at trade associations was a shocking $39,950, compared to an average salary of $51,450 for female exposition managers and directors at professional associations. (See related sidebar on next page.) It would seem that the exposition management field pays better than meeting management, except if you are a female exposition manager/director working for a trade organization.

Survey Methodology: Something Different This Year As in last year's survey sample, this year's sample was taken from Association Meeting's circulation, randomly selected so that the sample was about equally divided between trade and association executives for national organizations, with the titles of either chief paid executive, meeting manager/director, or exposition manager/director. However, this year's survey was conducted via the Internet, not via a mailed questionnaire as in the past.

We e-mailed 660 people in our sample, asking them to click on a highlighted area within the e-mail to be automatically linked to our Internet survey site. We received 129 responses from this set of our sample. We also faxed 936 other people in our survey sample, asking them to go to our Internet site to complete the survey, and 73 people that we faxed completed our survey. The total number of respondents was 202, with a response rate of 12.65 percent.

The independent firm of Research Results, Fitchburg, Mass., set up the survey Web site and tabulated the results. We offered respondents a chance to win a piece of Hartman luggage. The winner, chosen in a random drawing, is announced on page six of this issue.

KEY FINDINGS * Meeting attendance, revenues, expenditures, and trade show square footage are up for most of our respondents.

* Keeping meetings affordable continues to rank as number-one concern.

* Increasing sponsorship dollars and raising registration fees are top tactics for countering the rising costs of meetings.

* More than 60 percent of respondents say hotels are taking unfair advantage of meetings business during the seller's market.

* Most popular second-tier city selected for an upcoming meeting: Albuquerque

* More meeting planners say they are in favor of housing standardization.

* Most respondents use customized proprietary software to manage meetings and trade shows.

* The biggest technology-related concern: cost control.

* Gender wage gap narrows--but not for female exposition managers.