At a time in history when uncertainty clouds seemingly every realm of life, the religious meetings market can be called an island of stability — a welcome sight.

The 2001 RCMA Member Survey, an annual study of the RCMA membership, shows that religious meetings conducted by RCMA organizations are at historically high levels.

In 2000, the survey showed that 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. This year's survey indicates:

  1. More religious meetings are being held than ever before;

  2. A larger percentage of religious meetings are being held in retreat settings;

  3. Attendees continue to invest significant amounts of time to attend religious meetings;

  4. A larger percentage of religious meetings in 2001 were held close to home, in regional U.S. locations.

What can be concluded from the 2001 survey? Perhaps this: Religious meetings are a constant. They will always be here, and in significant numbers. How valuable is that, in a world filled with overwhelming change? It's very valuable indeed.

Big Numbers

One fact jumps out immediately when examining the 2001 RCMA Member Survey: More than 16 million people attended religious meetings held by RCMA organizations in 2001. To place those numbers into historical context, as recently as 1994 only 4.4 million people attended meetings held by RCMA organizations.

The total number of meetings in 2001 was 14,943, an increase from 14,540 in 2000. (See Figure 1 on page 15.) Committee meetings and seminars make up a significant portion of those meetings. In fact, RCMA organizations held 6,020 such meetings in 2001. Conventions and conferences ranked second in the number of meetings in 2001, with 3,813, followed by board meetings (2,388), and retreats (1,596).

A Growing Need to Retreat

The rankings for types of meeting facilities used by RCMA members did not change from 2000 to 2001, with one exception: Camps and retreats continue to gain in popularity (see Figure 2 on page 15).

Camps and retreats have come a long way with RCMA planners, doubling their percentage from seven years ago, when these locations received 5.7 percent of the business. In 2001, camps and retreats staked a claim to 11.6 percent of the RCMA business and moved up in popularity from sixth to fifth.

Downtown hotels continue to be the top choice for meeting planners: 18.4 percent of the meetings in 2001 were held at downtown hotels. In fact, downtown hotels have led the pack for the past seven 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 and to 15.9 percent in 2001.

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 seem well-positioned to meet the needs of the religious meeting market.

The third most popular meeting facilities, suburban hotels, remained steady in the percentage of business they received from RCMA planners. Suburban hotels received 13.2 percent of the business in 2001, the same percentage they garnered in 2000.

Convention/civic centers ranked fourth in popularity in 2001, but the percentage of meetings held at those venues dropped to 12.1 percent, from 12.5 percent in 2000.

Airport hotels, meanwhile, dropped from fifth to sixth place in the ranking. Airport hotels hosted 11.4 percent of the meetings in 2000 and 11.1 percent in 2001.

Resort hotels, the traditional holder of the seventh spot in this ranking, had 10.7 percent of the business in 2001. 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. Colleges and universities continue to represent an important alternative for religious meeting planners, with 7.8 percent of the year 2001 business.

Roomy Meetings

It wasn't unusual in 2001 for religious meeting planners to need 100 to 200 rooms for their largest meetings. That category made up 17 percent of the survey (see Figure 3 at right), while meetings requiring 300 to 500 rooms were close behind at 16 percent.

Meetings requiring 10 to 50 rooms increased from 9 percent to 10 percent, while meetings needing 50 to 100 rooms held steady at 14 percent. Larger meetings requiring 500 to 1,000 rooms decreased slightly, from 13 percent to 12 percent.

Only 6 percent of meetings needed more than 3,000 sleeping rooms, but those meetings represent a very important piece of business. Six percent equals about 900 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.

Seating for Many

The year 2001 was unchanged for meeting size, with 53 percent of the largest seating capacities being 50 to 1,000 (see Figure 4 on page 16).

Number of Meetings
Fig. 1
# Meetings Reported
Type of Meeting 2000 2001
Convention/Conference 3,706 3,813
Board 2,259 2,388
Committee/Seminar 5,949 6,020
Retreat 1,506 1,596
Other 1,120 1,126
Total 14,540 14,943

Types of Meeting Facilities Used
Fig. 2
Facility 2000 2001 2000 rank 2001 rank
Downtown Hotel 18.4% 18.4% 1 1
Conference Center 15.7% 15.9% 2 2
Suburban Hotel 13.2% 13.2% 3 3
Convention/Civic Center 12.5% 12.1% 4 4
Camps/Retreats 10.9% 11.6% 5 6
Airport Hotel 11.4% 11.1% 6 5
Resort Hotel 10.0% 10.7% 7 7
College/University 7.9% 7.8% 8 8

At the upper end, 2 percent of those surveyed said their largest meetings in 2001 required seating for more than 25,000 people. That percentage represents a 1 percent rise from 1998.

If you're a meeting planner whose largest seating capacity in 2001 was 1,000 to 2,500, you have a lot of company in RCMA. A total of 234 respondents (20 percent) said that was their largest meeting of the year. That was followed closely by the 500-to-1,000 category, with 18 percent.

Closer to Home

It should come as no surprise, post-9/11, that the percentage of religious meetings held overseas decreased in 2001, slipping from 8.6 percent in 2000 to 8.3 percent in 2001 (see Figure 5). The decrease ends a steady increase in overseas meetings that began in 1999.

The possible effects of September 11 also show up in the percentage of meetings held at “national” locations. In 2001, 22 percent of the meetings were held throughout the United States. That compares to 24.1 percent for 2000. Although it is a decrease for national sites, the 2001 level remains significantly higher than the 1998 level of 18.3 percent.

Of course, the decrease in overseas and national meetings means an increase in regional meetings. 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 17.1 percent of meetings being held there. The Southeast keeps growing in its percentage of religious meetings, up from 15.3 percent in 2000 to 16.4 percent in 2001. The Western states hosted 12.9 percent of the meetings, followed by the Northeast at 12.7 percent and South Central at 10.6 percent.

Stay for the Food

The popularity of catering services has never been higher with RCMA planners. Consider this: Just a few years ago, only a quarter of RCMA members surveyed reported using catering and banquet services. In 2001, however, 78 percent used those services, a 3 percent increase from 2000 and a 7 percent jump from 1999 (see Figure 6 at left).

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 continue to be important to planners, according to the survey. In 2001, 58 percent of those surveyed said they used ground transportation and tour services, a 3 percent decrease from 2000 but the same percentage as 1999.

Exhibit and decorating services were used by 47 percent of RCMA members surveyed in 2001, a 3 percent decline from 2000. The use of car rentals and airline ticketing and tour arrangement held steady in 2001.

Investing Time

Year after year, the RCMA survey shows that people are willing to dedicate a significant amount of time to attending religious meetings (see Figure 7 at right). This probably speaks to the recognition that religious meetings are important sources for renewal for attendees, something that is perhaps more vital than ever.

The average length of conventions and conferences was 4.2 days in 2001, compared to 4.3 days in 2000. (The average length in 1994 was 4 days.) The survey also seems to indicate that retreats are an important opportunity for reflection and renewal. The length of retreats remains high, at an average of 3.4 days in 2001.

The length of board meetings decreased ever so slightly, to 2.5 days in 2001 from 2.6 days in 2000, while the average committee meeting and seminar lasted 2.4 days, unchanged from 2000.

The survey indicates that a significant percentage of religious meeting planners do not use exhibits and trade shows (see Figure 8 at left). The vast majority, 78 percent, of those surveyed said that they did not use exhibit space or that their exhibit needs did not exceed 10,000 square feet. Thirty percent did not hold exhibits or trade shows in 2001.

The member survey for 2001 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.