U.S. meeting professionals are planning more meetings, canceling fewer, and expecting higher attendance than they had last year. These are among the findings in a new survey of more than 500 U.S. meeting planners that shows an industry on the road to recovery.

The 2010 Meeting Planner Intention Survey, conducted by the Y Partnership for the Professional Convention Management Association, the PCMA Education Foundation, and American Express, reports that meeting professionals expect to plan 15 percent more meetings in 2010 than they did in 2009. And looking further down the road, respondents anticipate their organizations will hold 24 percent more meetings in 2011 than in 2009.

The results were announced at a virtual press conference on June 15, live from the PCMA Education Conference in Montréal. Deborah Sexton, president and CEO, PCMA; Kati Quigley, director of event marketing at Microsoft and chair of the PCMA board of directors; and Peter Yesawich, chairman and CEO, Y Partnership, were on the call.

The survey polled 505 U.S. meeting planners, 56 percent from associations and 44 percent from corporations, incentive houses, and independent meeting planning companies.

Overall, 25 percent of respondents surveyed said they will plan more meetings in 2010 than they did in 2009—about 17 more events on average [per respondent]. About 65 percent of planners said the number of meetings they plan will stay the same, while 10 percent said they will plan fewer in 2010 than in 2009. In the same survey conducted lat year, only 9 percent said they were planning more meetings while 44 percent expected a decrease.

Broken down by planner type, corporate meetings appear to be on the fast track. Among corporate planners, 37 percent said they will plan more meetings this year compared to last (21 more meetings on average), while about 54 percent expect their meeting volume to stay the same. For association planners, only about 15 percent see more meetings for this year (9 more on average), while 75 percent say the number of meetings will not change.

For 2011, the numbers look strong as well: 31 percent of all respondents expect to book more meetings in 2011 than in 2009, while 62 percent expect the number of meetings to stay the same. About 43 percent of corporate planners and 21 percent of association planners say they’ll plan more meetings in 2011 versus 2009.

“The expectation with regard to attendance is even more encouraging,” said Yesawich. This year respondents anticipate seeing a 23 percent increase in attendance over 2009, and in 2011 they expect a 38 percent net increase over 2009.

Fewer Meetings Canned, Budgets Up
The positive outlook is also seen in a dramatic change in the stability of scheduled meetings. In this year’s survey, almost nine out of 10 respondents said they were not planning to cancel, rebook, or postpone any meetings already scheduled for 2010 or 2011. Compare that to last year’s survey when only 54 percent said the same as they looked ahead to 2009 and 2010. Further, only 6 percent of this year’s respondents said they were planning to cancel, postpone, or rebook meetings scheduled in 2010 or 2011 due to economic conditions compared to 41 percent in the 2009 survey.

The trend will save planners big money on cancellation fees. In 2009, respondents expected to pay, on average, $81,000 in cancellation fees. In 2010, respondents anticipate cancellation fees to average just $7,600 and for 2011 just $3,500.

Meeting pros were also optimistic about budget increases this year. Last year, just 8 percent of respondents expected the budget for their annual meeting to go up, while 67 percent thought it would go down. This year, in contrast, a quarter of respondents expect that budget to grow, a quarter expect it to shrink, and the rest anticipate no change. For 2011, more than a third of respondents think the annual meeting budget will increase, while just 15 percent expect it to decrease.

Site Choices Still Practical
Meeting professionals’ use of luxury properties and cruise ships for meetings continues to decline but, said Yesawich, the decrease was not as steep as it was in last year’s survey. Here’s the percentage change in the kinds of meeting properties planners expect to book in 2010/2011 compared to 2009/2010:

  • Hotels: +25 percent
  • Conference centers: +1 percent
  • Conventions centers: -4 percent
  • Resorts: -7 percent
  • Cruise ships: -15 percent

There was little change in the use of alternative meeting methods. The percentage of planners who expect to use online webinars (about half) and videoconferencing (about a third) remained basically the same in 2010 as in 2009. This is a sign that virtual meetings are becoming well established and more commonplace in the meetings business, said Yesawich. They won’t take away from face-to-face meetings, but will be a necessary and normal part of a meeting planner’s portfolio.