Symbolic of its own recent survey results, the International Congress and Convention Association welcomed nearly 1,000 attendees—a record-setting number—to its annual conference in Florence, Italy, which wrapped up last week.

Over the past few weeks, ICCA and IMEX, the Frankfurt-based worldwide exhibition for incentive travel, meetings, and events, asked 117 association executives from 23 countries about their 2009 meetings. More than half reported steady or rising attendance at those events. Still, fully 38 percent reported declining attendance.

And in fact, the study found that growing attendance is a critical goal for association executives, with 82 percent of respondents choosing “how to attract higher attendance” as the most important aspect of their jobs. (“How to offer better value for money” was the second-most-popular choice, at 73 percent.)

Where things got toughest for association meetings last year was in revenue from sponsorships and exhibitions. Almost half of respondents (45 percent) reported revenue declines, with 16 percent calling these declines “significant.” One third saw no change in revenue, while 13 percent reported revenue increases. (The remainder of respondents did not hold a meeting in 2009.)

ICCA and IMEX posed a new question this year, asking executives what they see ahead for their 2010 events. The answer: optimism. Only 16 percent predicted a decline in attendance while 39 percent expected more delegates at their events. ICCA CEO Martin Sirk says the results confirm his belief that the economic downturn has had less of an impact on international associations than on other sectors of the meetings industry. “The fact that so many associations are experiencing rising delegate numbers … during this period would be remarkable were it not the case that international associations have been consistently demonstrating this resilience for many, many years,” he said.