For the second consecutive year, the number of meetings conducted by the RCMA membership increased significantly, with the net effect being a 15 percent increase over the past two years.

The 2004 RCMA Member Survey, an annual study of the RCMA membership, shows that religious meetings conducted by RCMA organizations grew 8.4 percent from 2003 to 2004. This year's survey also indicates:

  • Downtown sites are the top choice for religious meeting planners and organizations, hosting 17 percent of all religious meetings.

  • Convention and civic centers 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 2004 were held overseas, bouncing back to pre-9/11 levels.

The 2004 survey proves once again that religious meetings are vital to attendees as well as to the people, facilities, and communities that provide services for religious meetings.

More Growth

RCMA members conducted 16,214 meetings in 2004, an 8.4 percent increase over 2003 (Figure 1). This increase comes after a 6.3 percent increase the previous year. Also in 2004, 14.2 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 5,674 such meetings in 2004. Conventions and conferences ranked second in the number of meetings in 2004, with 3,797, followed by other types of meetings (2,410), and board meetings (2,741).

Downtown Is Appealing

The rankings for types of meeting facilities used by RCMA members reveal that convention/civic centers and colleges and universities gained in popularity (Figure 2).

Downtown hotels continue to be the top choice for meeting planners: 17.4 percent of the meetings in 2004 were held at downtown hotels. In fact, downtown hotels have led for the past 10 years.

As the second most popular option, conference centers continue to make gains. In 1999, 15.5 percent of all meetings were held in conference centers. That percentage inched up to 15.7 percent in 2000, 16.5 percent in 2002, and 16.6 percent in 2004. 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 meetings-centered, distraction-free gatherings, conference centers continue to be well-positioned to meet the needs of the religious meetings market.

The third most popular meeting facilities, suburban hotels, fell slightly in the percentage of business they received from RCMA planners. Suburban hotels garnered 13 percent of the business in 2004, down from 13.7 percent in 2003.

In the fourth spot, convention/civic centers gained in popularity in 2004, and the percentage of meetings held at those venues increased to 12 percent, up from 11.1 percent in 2003.

Next, camps and retreats have come a long way with RCMA planners, doubling their percentage from 10 years ago, when these locations received 5.7 percent of the business. In 2004, camps and retreats claimed 11.6 percent of the RCMA business.

Resort hotels attracted 11 percent of the business in 2004. That is up from 9.7 percent in 1999, and, more significantly, it's a big jump from the 6.7 percent of the business that they held in 1994.

Airport hotels remained in seventh place in the ranking. Airport hotels hosted 10.5 percent of the meetings in 2004, unchanged from 2003.

Colleges and universities continue to represent an important alternative for religious meeting planners, with 7.9 percent of the 2004 business.

Lots of Room

It wasn't unusual in 2004 for a religious meeting planner to need 100 to 200 rooms for their largest meeting. That category made up 17 percent of the survey (Figure 3), while meetings requiring 300 to 500 rooms were close behind, at 15 percent, followed by meetings needing 50 to 100 rooms at 14 percent.

Meetings requiring 500 to 1,000 rooms came in at 13 percent. Meetings requiring 10 to 50 rooms were at 11 percent.

Only 6 percent of meetings needed more than 3,000 sleeping rooms, but those meetings represent a very significant piece of business.

Seating Arrangements

The year 2004 was an unchanged year for meeting size, with 54 percent of the largest seating capacities being 50 to 1,000 (Figure 4).

At the upper end, 2 percent of those surveyed said that their largest meetings in 2004 required seating for more than 25,000 people. That percentage represents a 1 percent increase from 1998.

If you are a meeting planner whose largest seating capacity in 2004 was 1,000 to 2,500, then you have a lot of company in RCMA. A total of 240 respondents (20 percent) said that was their largest meeting of the year. That was 2 percent higher than the 1,000 to 2,500 category.

The survey indicates that when it comes to exhibits and trade shows, a significant percentage 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 their needs did not exceed 10,000 square feet. Thirty-three percent did not hold exhibits or trade shows in 2004.

The member survey for 2004 showed little change in the size of exhibit space needed, although it is interesting to note on the high end that 6 percent of RCMA members said their largest meeting required 50,000 square feet of exhibit space.

Call a Caterer

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 2004, however, 81 percent used those services, a 6 percent increase from 2000 and a 10 percent jump from 1999.

Audiovisuals, too, have become a common sight at religious meetings. RCMA members used audiovisual supplier services at 82 percent of their meetings, up from 65.8 percent in 1994.

The importance of efficient ground transportation and tours continues to be important to religious meeting planners, according to the survey. In 2004, 56 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 2004. The use of car rentals remained steady in 2004 at 46 percent, and exhibit/decorating services stayed at 48 percent.

Investing 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 for renewal for attendees.

The average length of conventions and conferences was four days in 2004, a level that has held steady since the early 1990s. The survey also seems to indicate that retreats are an important opportunity for reflection. The length of retreats remains high — 3.3 days in 2004.

The length of board meetings remained the same as in 2003, 2.5 days, and the average committee meeting and seminar lasted 2.3 days, unchanged from 2003.

Overseas Bounces Back

Overseas meetings represented 8.5 percent of meetings in 2004. That is close to the 8.6 percent mark of 2000, up from the post-9/11 level of 8.1 percent in 2002.

The percentage of meetings held at “national” locations increased in 2004. In 2004, 22.9 percent of the meetings were held throughout the United States. That compares to 22.5 percent in 2003.

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 convention and visitors bureaus and in the hospitality industry.

The Midwest continues to host the most meetings, with 17.7 percent of meetings being held there. The Southeast remains strong in its percentage of religious meetings, at 16 percent in 2004. The Northeast states hosted 12.8 percent of the meetings, followed by the Western states at 11.3 percent and South Central at 10.7 percent.

Number of Meetings
Fig. 1
# Meetings Reported
Type of Meeting 2004 2003
Convention/Conference 3,797 3,981
Board 2,741 2,570
Committee/Seminar 5,674 5,265
Retreat 1,592 1,740
Other 2,410 1,408
Total 16,214 14,964

Types of Meeting Facilities Used
Fig. 2
Facility 2004 2003 2004 rank 2003 rank
Downtown Hotel 17.4% 17.5% 1 1
Conference Center 16.6% 16.8% 2 2
Suburban Hotel 13.0% 13.7% 3 3
Convention/Civic Center 12.0% 11.1% 4 6
Camps/Retreats 11.6% 11.7% 5 4
Resort Hotel 11.0% 11.1% 6 5
Airport Hotel 10.5% 10.5% 7 7
College/University 7.9% 7.7% 8 8