Our exclusive, second annual market survey of RCMA meeting-planner members confirms what has been observed throughout the year: 2009 was a difficult year for religious meetings. Attendance was down. Sponsorships and exhibitor attendance suffered. Some planners faced attrition penalties, and others had to cancel their largest meeting.

But optimism is in the air for 2010. The vast majority of religious meeting planners — 68 percent — believe that the worst is over and attendance will not decline any further in 2010.

The online survey, conducted October 20 to November 13, asked about planners' 2009 experiences and 2010 expectations.

Here are the attendance results: More than 60 percent of respondents said that attendance for their primary meeting was flat or down. Eleven percent said attendance was down 20 percent to 34 percent. Another 11 percent said attendance was down 35 percent to 49 percent.

Only 12 percent of meeting planners said that they'd had to pay attrition penalties in 2009. Another 21 percent said that they had faced attrition but were able to negotiate it down or eliminate it.

Religious Meeting Planners See Better Times for 2010.

Thirty-six percent of planners expect attendance in 2010 to be better than 2009. Thirty-two percent expect no change in 2010. Digging deeper, 16 percent of planners think attendance will increase 1 percent to 19 percent, and 20 percent of the planners expect attendance to increase 20 percent or more.

The picture for sponsor and exhibitor attendance indicates this: 43 percent of planners expect no change from 2009. Thirteen percent of planners think attendance will fall 13 percent, and 9 percent anticipate decreases of 20 percent to 34 percent.

Survey Results

  1. Did you hold your largest regularly scheduled meeting as planned in 2009?

    92.9% Yes
    7.1% No
  2. How did overall attendance at your largest regularly scheduled meeting compare with attendance at the same meeting in 2008?

    7.4% Increase of 20 percent or more
    25.9% Increase of 1 percent to 19 percent
    11.1% No change
    29.6% Decrease of 1 percent to 19 percent
    11.1% Decrease of 20 percent to 34 percent
    14.8% Decrease of 35 percent to 49 percent
  3. At your largest regularly scheduled meeting in 2009, how was the attendance of your primary attendees/members affected?

    7.7% Increase of 20 percent or more
    19.2% Increase of 1 percent to 19 percent
    23.1% No change
    26.9% Decrease of 1 percent to 19 percent
    11.5% Decrease of 20 percent to 34 percent
    11.5% Decrease of 35 percent to 49 percent
  4. At your largest regularly scheduled meeting in 2009, how was the attendance of your exhibitors/sponsors affected?

    8% Increase of 1 percent to 19 percent
    44% No change
    32% Decrease of 1 percent to 19 percent
    4% Decrease of 20 percent to 34 percent
    4% Decrease of 35 percent to 49 percent
    8% Decrease of 50 percent or more
  5. If you experienced lower attendance than anticipated at your largest 2009 meeting, did attrition penalties come into play?

    12.5% Yes, we had to pay attrition penalties for our 2009 meeting.
    20.8% We owed attrition for our 2009 meeting but were able to negotiate it down or eliminate it.
    25% No, we did not experience an attrition penalty for our 2009 meeting.
    41.7% Not applicable: No shortfall occurred.
  6. If your meetings had attendance shortfalls, did you try to renegotiate terms with your suppliers?

    50% Yes
    50% No
  7. If your hotel supplier was willing to renegotiate, how did you mitigate?

    60% Lowered room rate
    30% Negotiated lower F&B minimums
    0% Increased our F&B use
    0% Tried to invoke force majeure clause to mitigate attendance shortfall
    10% Supplier offered to increase efforts to attract attendees
    20% Promised to bring future business to hotel or venue
  8. If you had to cancel your largest meeting in 2009, did you pay cancellation fees?

    0% Yes
    100% No
  9. Do you plan to hold your largest regularly scheduled meeting in 2010?

    89.3% Yes
    10.7% No
  10. At your largest regularly scheduled meeting in 2010, what do you expect from primary attendees/members compared to 2009?

    20% Increase of 20 percent or more
    16% Increase of 1 percent to 19 percent
    32% No change
    24% Decrease of 1 percent to 19 percent
    8% Decrease of 20 percent to 34 percent
  11. At your largest regularly scheduled meeting in 2010, what do you expect from exhibitors/sponsors compared to 2009?

    8.7% Increase of 20 percent or more
    26.1% Increase of 1 percent to 19 percent
    43.5% No change
    13.0% Decrease of 1 percent to 19 percent
    8.7% Decrease of 20 percent to 34 percent
  12. If you expect lower attendance at your largest 2010 meeting, do you expect attrition penalties to come into play?

    0% Yes, we expect to pay attrition penalties for our 2010 meeting.
    15% We expect to owe attrition, but we expect to be able to negotiate it down or eliminate it.
    85% No, we do not expect an attrition penalty for our 2010 meeting.
  13. If your largest 2010 meeting has attendance shortfalls, will you try to renegotiate terms with your suppliers?

    86.4% Yes
    13.6% No
  14. If your supplier is willing to renegotiate, how will you mitigate?

    18.8% Decrease the room rate
    43.8% Decrease F&B minimums
    12.5% Increase our F&B use
    12.5% Try to invoke force majeure clause to mitigate attendance shortfall
    18.8% Supplier will increase efforts to attract attendees
    37.5% Promise to bring future business to hotel or venue
  15. Looking at all of the meetings that your organization holds in a year, please check the boxes that describe what you expect to do in 2010 to cut costs.

    23.1% Replace large meeting with regional or smaller meetings.
    30.8% Eliminate some small meetings
    26.9% Replace some live meetings with virtual meetings or conference calls
    38.5% Change to a more affordable destination/facility
    26.9% Will not make any changes to cut costs
  16. What strategies are you planning to use to increase attendance at your 2010 meeting(s)?

    42.3% Work with CVBs to market destinations
    53.8% Increase promotional mailings
    84.6% Increase e-mail promotion
    42.3% Use social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.)to promote meetings
    26.9% Create campaigns specific to each attendee segment your organization serves
    69.2% Use personal outreach from board members/staff
    46.2% Use personal outreach from active members
  17. Please check the box that best describes your organization's meeting-staffing level, as compared to one year ago.

    29.6% Fewer staff
    59.3% No change
    11.1% More staff
  18. If your meeting-staff levels have decreased, please check the boxes that describe how you have responded.

    33.3% Used technology to increase productivity
    11.1% Moved some work functions to outside vendors
    38.9% Worked longer hours
    38.9% I have made no changes