It's a remarkable story — a story of faith, really: Even in tumultuous times, nothing seems to be able to stop the expansion of themarket.
The 2003 RCMA Member Survey, an annual study of the RCMA membership, shows that religious meetings conducted by RCMA organizations grew 6.5 percent from 2002 to 2003. This year's survey also indicates:
Downtown sites are the top choice for religious meeting planners and organizations, hosting nearly 18 percent of all religious meetings.
Resorts continue to climb in popularity as sites for religious meetings.
Attendees are investing significant amounts of time to attend religious meetings.
A larger percentage of meetings in 2003 were held overseas, bouncing back nearly to pre-9/11 levels.
The 2003 survey proves that religious meetings are as important as ever, vital to attendees and to the people, facilities, and communities that provide services.
A Big Increase
One fact jumps out immediately when examining the 2003 RCMA Member Survey data: RCMA members conducted 14,964 meetings in 2003, a 6.5 percent increase over 2002 (Figure 1). Also in 2003, 14.6 million people attended meetings conducted by RCMA members. To place those numbers into historical context, only 4.4 million people attended meetings held by RCMA organizations as recently as 1994.
Committee meetings and seminars make up a significant portion of those meetings. In fact, RCMA organizations held 5,265 such meetings in 2003. Conventions and conferences ranked second in the number of meetings in 2003, with 3,985, followed by board meetings (2,570), and retreats (1,740).
Planners Love Downtown
The rankings for types of meeting facilities used by RCMA members reveal that downtown hotels, conference centers, suburban hotels, resorts, and colleges and universities gained in popularity (Figure 2).
Downtown hotels continue to be the top choice for meeting planners: 17.5 percent of the meetings in 2003 were held at downtown hotels. In fact, downtown hotels have led for the past nine years.
As the second-most-popular option, conference centers continue to make gains with RCMA planners and organizations. In 1999, 15.5 percent of all meetings were held in conference centers, and that percentage inched up to 15.7 percent in 2000, 15.9 percent in 2001, 16.5 percent in 2002, and to 16.8 percent in 2003. To put those percentages in context, conference centers were the No. 4 option in 1994, when they garnered only 13.4 percent of meetings. With their focus on meeting-centered, distraction-free gatherings, conference centers continue to seem well-positioned to meet the needs of the religious meetings market.
The third-most-popular meeting facilities, suburban hotels, remained steady in the percentage of business they received from RCMA planners. Suburban hotels garnered 13.7 percent of the business in 2003, an increase from 13.5 percent in 2002.
In the fourth spot, camps and retreats have come a long way with RCMA planners, more than doubling their percentage from nine years ago, when these locations received 5.7 percent of the business. In 2003, camps and retreats claimed 11.7 percent of the RCMA business.
Resort hotels, the traditional holder of the seventh spot in this ranking, leaped to fifth, with 11.1 percent of the business in 2003. That's an increase from 9.7 percent in 1999, and more significantly, a big jump from the 6.7 percent of the business that they held in 1994.
Convention/civic centers ranked sixth in popularity in 2003, and the percentage of meetings held at those venues dropped to 11.1 percent, down from 12.1 percent in 2001.
Airport hotels slid from sixth to seventh place in the ranking. Airport hotels hosted 10.5 percent of the meetings in 2003, down from 11.1 percent in 2002.
Colleges and universities continue to represent an important alternative for religious meeting planners, with 7.7 percent of the 2003 business.
Lots of Room
It was not unusual in 2003 for a religious meeting planner to need 100 to 200 rooms for his or her largest meeting. That category made up 18 percent of the survey (Figure 3), while meetings requiring 50 to 100 rooms were close behind, at 16 percent, followed by meetings needing 300 to 500 rooms at 14 percent.
Meetings requiring 10 to 50 rooms remained at 10 percent, and meetings requiring 500 to 1,000 rooms remained at 12 percent.
Only 5 percent of meetings needed more than 3,000 sleeping rooms, but those meetings represent a very significant piece of business. Five percent equals about 750 meetings, and when you consider that these large conventions typically last at least four days, this small percentage represents more than 9 million room nights.
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Size Remains the Same
The year 2003 was an unchanged year for meeting size, with 56 percent of the largest seating capacities being 500 to 1,000 (Figure 4).
At the upper end, 2 percent of those surveyed said that their largest meetings in 2003 required seating for more than 25,000 people. That percentage represents a 1 percent increase from 1998.
If you're a meeting planner whose largest seating capacity in 2003 was 500 to 1,000, then you have a lot of company in RCMA. A total of 217 respondents (19 percent) said that was their largest meeting of the year. That was 1 percent higher than the 1,000 to 2,500 category.
The survey indicates that when it comes to exhibits and trade shows, a significant percent of religious meeting planners don't use them.
The vast majority, 78 percent, of those surveyed said that they did not use exhibit space or that their needs did not exceed 10,000 square feet. Thirty-four percent did not hold exhibits or trade shows in 2003. That is up from 31 percent in 2002.
The member survey for 2003 showed little change in the size of exhibit space needed, although it is interesting to note on the high end that 5 percent of RCMA members said their largest meeting required 50,000 square feet of exhibit space.
The popularity of catering services continues to be high among RCMA planners. Consider this: Just a few years ago, only a quarter of RCMA members surveyed reported using catering and banquet services. In 2003, however, 79 percent used those services, a 4 percent increase from 2000 and an 8 percent jump from 1999.
Audiovisuals, too, have become a common sight at religious meetings. RCMA members used AV supplier services at 83 percent of their meetings, up from 65.8 percent in 1994.
Efficient ground transportation and tours continues to be important to religious meeting planners, according to the survey. In 2003, 57 percent of those surveyed said they used ground transportation and tour services.
Exhibit and decorating services were used by 48 percent of RCMA members surveyed in 2003. The use of car rentals and airline ticketing and tour arrangement dropped slightly in 2003, to 48 percent, from 49 percent in 2002.
Taking the Time
Year after year, the RCMA survey shows that people are willing to dedicate a significant amount of time to attending religious meetings (Figure 6). This probably speaks to the recognition that religious meetings are important sources of renewal for attendees, perhaps more vital than ever.
The average length of conventions and conferences was four days in 2003, a level that has held steady since the early 1990s. The survey also seems to indicate that retreats are an important opportunity for reflection and renewal. The length of retreats remains high — 3.3 days in 2003.
The length of board meetings decreased slightly, to 2.5 days in 2003 from 2.6 days in 2002, while the average committee meeting and seminar lasted 2.4 days, up from 2.3 days in 2002.
Religious meeting planners reversed a post-9/11 trend, increasing the percentage of overseas meetings held in 2003.
Overseas meetings represented 8.4 percent of meetings in 2003, up from 8.1 percent in 2002. That is close to the 8.6 percent level of 2000.
The percentage of meetings held at “national” locations held steady in 2003. In 2003, 22.5 percent of the meetings were held throughout the United States. That compares to 22.9 percent for 2002.
The majority of RCMA organizations still plan their meetings for the same region each year, giving religious meeting planners the opportunity to build strong relationships with people they know at CVBs and in the hospitality industry.
The Midwest continues to hold the most meetings, with 17.6 percent of meetings. The Southeast remains strong in its percentage of religious meetings, at 15.9 percent in 2003. The Northeast states hosted 13.2 percent of the meetings, followed by the Western states at 12.3 percent and South Central at 10.1 percent.