Meetings revenues make up a hefty chunk of an association's budget — one-third of associations say their meetings revenue constitutes 20 to 40 percent of their organization's total income, and many more say it could go as high as 50 percent or more, according to research conducted by the Professional Convention Management Association in conjunction with the University of South Carolina Hotel School.

In an audioconference PCMA held on October 5, planners brainstormed ways they could diversify their revenue streams. The challenge, according to PCMA Chairman of the Board James Youngblood, who also is CEO for the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology, will be to find ways to reduce the budget to fit the reduced attendance and sponsorships situation, without at the same time reducing the experience for attendees.

For medical meetings, attendees' and exhibitors' unwillingness to travel post-9/11 is compounded by the need for senior physicians to stay home to cover medical needs in their communities. In addition, shows were hurting before 9/11 as corporate mergers and buyouts throughout the pharmaceutical industry reduced exhibitor presence on the show floors.

Another challenge outlined by Youngblood at the audioconference: Most of the growth in medical meetings over the past 10 years has been from international attendees, who, in the short-term anyway, are more likely to cancel. One association said it's sending weekly updates on travel in the U.S. to international attendees to help allay their fears. Some associations said they were contacting the organizations that held the biggest room blocks to gauge attendees' attitudes.

Communicating with attendees and exhibitors is key to the success of near-term conventions, said audioconference participants. Even associations that sent out press releases, took out ads in industry publications, and sent broadcast faxes and e-mails to announce that their events would not be canceled found that the rumor mill still churned with cancellation talk.

Youngblood said that associations must return to the core focus of their business: building community and uniting people around a common goal. He said that one way to address attendees' unwillingness to travel is to explore technology options that perhaps were not thought of previously.

Keep in mind, though, panelists warned, that audioconferencing and other technological meeting tools aren't free. You have to look at the cost-benefit analysis to see if a technology solution is feasible for your needs. (For more, see “Grounded!” page 55.)

Another possibility is to hold more regional events. Participants noted that while regional meetings work well for community-based purposes, they can't replace annual meetings, particularly those that represent international marketplaces.

Hotel cutbacks have led to worries that the hospitality industry won't be able to produce the needed level of service for near-term meetings, but participants said the hotels were willing to bring back workers to handle meetings and conventions in order to provide the same service as before September 11.