The brilliance of a painting can be seen in the details of each brush stroke, but to see the finished picture as it was intended to be viewed, observers needs to step back from the wall — sometimes way back.

The same can be said for a survey like the 2000 RCMA Member Survey: You will want to examine the numbers closely, but make sure to take a few steps back to consider what the numbers mean.

To get started, consider these big-picture conclusions before moving closer to the numbers for the proof: Religious meetings are being attended by more people; the meetings are lasting longer; attendees are more willing than ever to travel outside their region for meetings; and the demand for supplier services never has been stronger.

What should be remembered from these conclusions? Perhaps this: Religious meetings are more important than ever in people's lives.

By Leaps and Bounds

One fact jumps out immediately when examining the 2000 RCMA Member Survey: Attendance increased by an incredible 19.9 percent. In 1999, 15.2 million people attended religious meetings, while in 2000, the total attendance was 18.2 million (Figure 1). To place those numbers in historical context, only 4.4 million people attended religious meetings as recently as 1994.

While attendance numbers increased, the total number of meetings dropped from 16,335 to 14,540.

Which types of meetings saw the largest increases? The biggest percentage jump came in attendance at retreats, which increased 84.7 percent, from 465,260 in 1999 to 859,415 in 2000. When looking strictly at numbers of attendees, the convention/conference category increased by 2.4 million, from 12.3 million in 1999 to 14.7 million in 2000.

Attendance at committee meetings and seminars also saw a nice increase, from 747,720 to 894,035. Attendance at board meetings dipped slightly, while attendance at other types of meetings rose 5.9 percent.

You Can Always Go Downtown

The rankings for types of meeting facilities used by RCMA members did not change from 1999 to 2000, but subtle differences appear when the numbers are examined closely (Figure 2).

Downtown hotels continue to be the top choice for meeting planners: 18.4 percent of the meetings in 2000 were held at downtown hotels. In fact, downtown hotels have led for the past six years.

As the second-most-popular option, conference centers continue to gain in popularity. In 1999, 15.5 percent of all meetings were held in conference centers, and that percentage inched up to 15.7 percent in 2000. To put those percentages in context, conference centers were the number-four option in 1994, when they garnered only 13.4 percent of meetings. With their focus on meetings-centered, distraction-free gatherings, conference centers seem positioned to take advantage of new research that shows how adults learn. (See story on page 21.)

Number of Meetings and Attendance
Fig. 1
# Meetings Reported Attendance Average
Type of Meeting 2000 1999 2000 1999 20003 1999
Convention/Conference 3,706 4,053 14,745,24 12,345,56 ,9796 3,046
Board 2,259 2,588 7 1 3 61
Committee/Seminar 5,949 6405 142,567 157,497 150 117
Retreat 1506 1538 859,415 465,260 1,381 303
Other 1,120 1,751 1,546,300 1,459,383 833
Total 14,540 16,335 18,189,564 15,175,421

Types of Meeting Facilities Used
Fig. 2
Facility 2000 1999 2000 rank 1999 rank
Downtown Hotel 18.4% 18.3% 1 1
Conference Center 15.7% 15.5% 2 2
Suburban Hotel 13.2% 13.5% 3 3
Convention/Civic Center 12.5% 12.8% 4 4
Airport Hotel 11.4% 11.2% 5 5
Camps/Retreats 10.9% 10.7% 7 7
Resort Hotel 10.0% 8.3% 8 8

The third and fourth most popular meeting facilities, suburban hotels and convention/civic centers, dropped slightly in the percentage of business they received from RCMA planners. Suburban hotels went from 13.5 percent in 1999 to 13.2 percent in 2000. Similarly, convention/civic centers dropped from 12.8 percent to 12.5 percent.

Those decreases were offset by increases for airport hotels, which ranked fifth on the list, and camps/retreats, which came in sixth. Airport hotels saw their piece of the business go from 11.2 percent in 1999 to 11.4 percent in 2000, while camps/retreats enjoyed an increase from 10.7 percent to 10.9 percent. Camps/retreats have come a long way with RCMA planners, almost doubling in percentage from six years ago, when these locations received 5.7 percent of the business.

Resort hotels, the traditional holder of the seventh spot in this ranking, had 10 percent of the business in 2000. That is an increase from 9.7 percent in 1999, and more significantly, a big jump from the 6.7 percent of the business that resort hotels held in 1994.

Colleges and universities continue to represent an important option for planners, with 7.9 percent of the year 2000 business. That compares to 8.3 percent in 1999.

We Have Rooms

It was not unusual in 2000 for a religious meeting planner to need 300 to 500 rooms for a large meeting. That category made up 17 percent of the survey (Figure 3), while meetings requiring 100 to 200 rooms were close behind, at 16 percent.

Meetings requiring 10 to 50 rooms declined from 10 percent to 9 percent, while meetings needing 50 to 100 rooms increased 1 percent, from 13 percent to 14 percent. Meetings requiring 500 to 1,000 rooms increased from 12 percent to 13 percent.

Only 6 percent of meetings needed more than 3,000 sleeping rooms, but those meetings represent a lot of business. Six percent equals 872 meetings, and when you consider that these large conventions typically last at least four days, this small percentage represents more than 12 million room nights.

Taking a Breather

The recent trend has indicated that religious meetings are getting bigger. The year 2000 was a breather, though, an unchanged year for meeting size, with 51 percent of the largest seating capacities being 50 to 1,000 (Figure 4).

At the upper end, 3 percent of those surveyed said their largest meetings in 2000 required seating for more than 25,000 people. That percentage is unchanged from 1999, but it's a 2 percent increase from 1998; it appears that the super-sized meetings will remain an important part of the religious meetings mix.

If you are a meeting planner whose largest seating capacity in 2000 was 1,000 to 2,500, then you have a lot of company. A total of 247 respondents (21 percent) said that was their largest meeting of the year. That was followed closely by the 500 to 1,000 category, which represented 18 percent.

Exhibits Are in the Minority

When it comes to exhibits and trade shows, religious meeting planners continue to be very selective — if they use trade shows at all (Figure 5).

When the numbers are totaled, the vast majority — 77 percent — of those surveyed said that they did not use exhibit space or that their needs did not exceed 10,000 square feet. The survey results for 2000 showed little change in the size of exhibit space needed, although it is interesting that on the high end, 7 percent of RCMA members said their largest meeting required 50,000 square feet of exhibit space. At the other end of the spectrum are the 29 percent of religious planners who did not include trade shows as part of their events in 2000.

It's Time Well Spent

It is clear from the survey that attendees are willing to take time out of their busy lives for religious meetings. It might be challenging for people to get away for meetings, but the survey shows that attendees were willing to spend more time at meetings in 2000 (Figure 6). This probably speaks to the recognition that religious meetings are vital sources for renewal for attendees, perhaps more vital than ever.

The average length of conventions and conferences increased from 4.2 days in 1999 to 4.3 days in 2000. The average length in 1994 was 4 days. It is also significant that the length of retreats increased nearly 10 percent, from 3.3 days to 3.5 days — time spent in the wilderness, so to speak, is as important today as it was 2,000 years ago.

Board meetings stayed the same, at 2.6 days; committee meetings and seminars also remained unchanged at 2.4 days.

Who Is Catering?

There may have been a time when religious meetings were Spartan affairs with little need for supplier services, except for a few boxes of chalk and a couple of slide projectors. Those days are long gone.

From 1999 to 2000, the use of supplier services remained steady or increased in every category (Figure 7). Continuing a trend, use of catering and banquet services rose the most, from 71 percent in 1999 to 75 percent in 2000.

Amazingly, just a few years ago only a quarter of RCMA members surveyed reported using catering and banquet services. Perhaps part of the reason for the increase is the effort that hotels, convention and conference centers, and other facilities have placed on providing menu options that can be tailored to suit a group's specific dietary needs.

Audiovisuals, too, have become as common at religious meetings as the smiles on attendees' faces. RCMA members used supplier services at 84 percent of their meetings, up from 83 percent in 1999 and from 65.8 percent in 1994.

Efficient ground transportation and tours have never been more important to religious meeting planners, according to the results of the member survey. In 2000, 61 percent of those surveyed said they used ground transportation and tour services, a 3 percent increase from 1999.

Exhibit and decorating services were used by half of the RCMA members surveyed in 2000, no change from 1999. The use of car rentals and airline ticketing and tour arrangement also held steady in 2000.

Willing to Travel

This year's survey shows that religious organizations are more willing than ever to travel for meetings (Figure 8). The number of religious organizations holding meetings outside the United States grew significantly again in 2000, from 8.1 percent in 1999 to 8.6 percent in 2000. This increase follows an identical half-percent gain from 1998 to 1999.

The survey also shows that religious groups, which used to stay close to home for meetings, now consider the entire country when deciding where to convene. In fact, more groups than ever are planning meetings throughout the country. In 2000, 24.1 percent of the meetings were held throughout the United States. That compares to 21.7 percent for 1999 and 18.3 percent for 1998.

But while many religious meeting planners seem to consider the world to be their oyster, the majority still plan their meetings for the same region year after year. Of course, this gives planners the opportunity to build strong relationships with people they know at CVBs and in the hospitality industry.

The Midwest is the leader among regions in the United States, with 16.9 percent of meetings being held there. The Southeast is next at 15.3 percent, followed by the Northeast at 12.2 percent, the West at 12.5 percent, and South Central at 10.5 percent.