Cover Story

Convene’s 26th Annual Meetings Market Survey

Still trending upward, but at a slower pace than last year.

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Illustration by Marco Ventura

Every year, when we compile the latest Meetings Market Survey results, we compare them to the previous year’s survey. With some data points, we’ll even go back a few years in time, to demonstrate how far we’ve come, and during economic downturns, how much we’ve slipped. This year, we decided to take a longer look back — over the span of 10 years, from right before the U.S. recession hit December 2007, through post-recession (mid-2009), to the recovery.

Remarkably, some metrics in 15 key areas have held steady during the past decade — for example, meetings and conventions have consistently contributed to around one-third of their organizations’ total annual revenues — regardless of the economy. Other key benchmarks, like room-block size, reflect greater fluctuations, indicating that there are other factors at work besides the economy that affect the way event organizers do business. Those include changing attendee behavior, advances in technology, and even the sharing economy.

Of course, we’re careful not to make sweeping generalizations or grand pronouncements about our results each year — or over the past 10 years — because we recognize that this is not a control-group study. The professionals who respond to our survey are not the same every year, the organizations they represent change year over year, and even the way respondents evaluate their events may differ from survey to survey. Those disclaimers aside, Convene’s annual Meetings Market Survey continues to be recognized as an important piece of benchmarking research in the meetings industry. (For full results, see Convene’s print issue or see the digital edition.)

Let’s start by reviewing the short-term results: How has the industry progressed since last year? Slow growth is the best way to characterize the results.

Key performance indicators, such as 2016 attendance vs. 2015 attendance, show an increase, but at a lesser rate than last year’s survey. Respondents, most of whom completed the survey in the weeks leading up to the U.S. presidential election, during a time of political upheaval, were nonetheless cautiously optimistic about how their events would fare this year.

Here are some topline results from this year’s survey compared to last year’s:

› Size of 2016 convention/meeting budget vs. 2015 convention/meeting budget: +1.7 percent. In last year’s survey: +2.9 percent.

›  2016 attendance vs. 2015 attendance: +3.6 percent. In the 2015 survey: +5.3 percent.

›  2017 attendance vs. 2016 attendance (projected): +4.9 percent. In the 2015 survey: +3.3 percent.

› Number of 2016 exhibitors vs. 2015 exhibitors: +4.6 percent. In the 2015 survey: +2.7 percent.

› Number of 2017 exhibitors vs. 2016 exhibitors (projected): +1.5 percent. In the 2015 survey: +2.3 percent.

› Overall 2016 meeting budget compared to 2015 meeting budget: +1.7 percent. In the 2015 survey: +2.9 percent.

› 28 percent expect to plan more meetings in 2017; only 3 percent expect to plan fewer meetings.

Cutbacks — Despite the continued improving economy, most meeting organizers are still being asked to cut back on meeting expenses, and the majority (63 percent) have been asked to focus on reducing F&B expenses.

Expanding space — Respondents to this year’s survey reported that their largest exhibition had 7,100 more square feet in 2016 compared to the 2015 survey results — about half the jump in size we saw last year, but still reversing the trend in prior years of declining exhibition space.

Greater forethought — The average booking window for large meetings is 2.5 years, slightly more than in the 2015 survey; for small meetings, it’s 11 months, compared to 10 months in the 2015 survey.

› Technology trumps rentals — Respondents to this year’s survey were most likely to outsource app development and deployment (60 percent), event-supply rentals (58 percent), and housing (49 percent).

A Decade of Data

Some benchmarking metrics have not changed much in 10 years, but when juxtaposed with other data, inferences can be drawn. For example, while the average annual convention/meeting budget has held steady at between $1.1 and $1.3 million (with the exception of 2008, when it hit $1.7 million), the average overall organization budget has grown from $5.4 million in 2007 to $7 million today.

That disparity helps to explain why frustration over budgetary constraints came up consistently in this year’s open-ended comments section of the survey, as it has frequently in previous surveys. One respondent said: “The convention budget continues to shrink despite increasing membership numbers. We believe the association is not very favorable to the convention since we barely make a profit.”

Of course, technology has also left its mark on our industry over the last decade. Event-supply rentals topped the list of outsourced items in most surveys since 2007, except in 2014, and again this year, when event-app development and deployment took the lead.

And while we didn’t ask respondents if they were considering webcasting their events — what’s now more commonly referred to as virtual and hybrid events — in 2007, our survey results this year show that this remains a largely untapped opportunity. Fewer than one in five respondents reported that their largest event included a virtual or hybrid component, and their use of virtual meetings and events went up less than 0.3 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Association Professionals

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Respondents who work for associations are most likely to be employed at a professional association (47 percent), medical/health care association (28 percent), or trade association (18 percent). Six percent work for SMERF organizations.

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Association professionals responding to the survey are employed at associations that vary greatly in size, from under 1,000 to 50,000-plus members; approximately one-third (36 percent) work for associations with fewer than 5,000 members.

Corporate Professionals

SIZE OF COMPANY

Respondents who work for corporations or government agencies are far more likely to work at one that employs fewer than 1,000 individuals (70 percent). Average: 6,384

12% 1,000 to 4,999

2% 5,000 to 9,999

6% 10,000 to 24,999

4% 25,000 to 49,999

6% 50,000 or more

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Respondents who work for corporations or government agencies are far more likely to work at one that employs fewer than 1,000 individuals (70 percent). Average: 6,384 Respondents employed in the corporate world are most likely to work for a technology firm (33 percent) followed by a pharmaceutical/medical/medical-device firm (27 percent).

Number of Meetings Planned

32% 1 to 5

18% 6 to 10

12% 11 to 20

38% more than 20

More than one-third of respondents (38 percent) plan more than 20 meetings per year, while more than two-thirds (68 percent) plan at least six meetings per year. More than two-thirds of respondents (69 percent) expect their total number of meetings in 2017 to remain the same, while 28 percent expect to plan more meetings this year. Only 3 percent expect to plan fewer meetings. Average for association professionals: 12; independent planners: 11; corporate planners: 12; government: 15

Average number of meetings for association professionals: 12; independent planners: 11; corporate planners: 12; government: 15

A majority of respondents (82 percent) hold at least one event with an exhibit every year, slightly up from the 2015 survey results.

Average number of meetings with exhibits: 2.9 events

2016 Convention/Meeting Budget 

4% Less than $50,000

4% $50,000 to $99,999

11% $100,000 to $249,999

15% $250,000 to $499,999

15% $500,000 to $999,999

23% $1 million to $2.5 million

28% More than $2.5 million

More than one-quarter of respondents (28 percent) report that their organization’s total convention/meeting budget in 2016 exceeded $2.5 million, and one-half (51 percent) indicate that it was $1 million or more.

Average: $1.3 million

Budget With Exhibitions

Respondents indicate that the average total budget for their largest 2016 event with an exhibition was $1.5 million, up from $1.4 million in the 2015 survey.

Budget Without Exhibitions

Respondents indicate that the average total budget for their largest 2016 event without an exhibition was $800,000, a significant increase from $600,000 in the 2015 survey.

5The largest group of respondents (52 percent) report that their convention/meeting budget stayed the same in 2016 compared to 2015, while 34 percent report that it increased and 14 percent report their budget went down. Average change: +1.7 percent compared to +2.9 percent in the 2015 survey

Projected 2017 Convention/Meeting Budget vs. 2016 Convention/Meeting Budget 

33% Expect to increase

9% Expect to decrease

58% Expect to remain the same

 Nine percent expect their convention/meeting budget to decrease in 2017, while 58 percent (around the same as in last year’s survey) expect no change. Thirty-three percent (compared to 32 percent last year) expect to work with a bigger budget this year.

Average change: +2.4 percent compared to +1.7 percent in the 2015 survey

2016 Net Profit From Conventions/Meetings 

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One-quarter (25 percent) of respondents indicate that their organization’s net profit from conventions and meetings in 2016 was $1 million or more, while another 19 percent indicate that their organization broke even or had a net loss (compared to 16 percent in the 2015 survey).

Average: $700,000 vs. $600,000 in 2015 survey

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More than one-third of respondents (37 percent) indicate that their organization’s total annual 2016 budget was $10 million or more, and nearly one-half (49 percent) report that it was $5 million or more.

Average: $7 million

Outsourcing Meetings-Related Services 

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Respondents outsource a variety of meeting-related services. They are most likely to outsource app development and deployment (60 percent), event-supply rentals (58 percent), housing (49 percent), and registration (44 percent). This year, app development took the lead over event-supply rentals — the most-popular outsourced service in last year’s survey.

Organizational Income

Respondents indicate that, on average, 26 percent of their organization’s revenue is derived from dues, 13 percent from sales, and 12 percent from publications/advertising/sponsorships. Thirty-six percent comes from conventions, exhibits, and meetings (about the same as the 2015 survey). Corporate planners indicate that, on average, the largest chunk of their income comes from conventions/exhibits/meetings (48 percent); for association professionals, it’s 32 percent.

The average revenue for respondents’ largest meeting with an exhibition in 2016 was $1.5 million (up from $1.4 million in last year’s survey); without an exhibition component, the average revenue was $400,000 (down from $500,000 in last year’s survey).

Offering Citywide Housing 

The trend seems to continue to move toward handling citywide housing in-house. More respondents this year indicate that they manage that process themselves (47 percent compared to 44 percent in the 2015 survey). At the same time, more respondents this year say they used a third-party housing service (42 percent vs. 36 percent in last year’s survey), but only 11 percent used a convention bureau housing service in 2016, compared to 20 percent in the 2015 survey.

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Two-fifths of respondents (39 percent compared to 45 percent in last year’s survey) report that the economic value of their largest meeting in 2016 to the host destination was less than $1 million, while 26 percent — compared to 15 percent in the 2015 survey — report the value at $5 million or more. In terms of the total economic value to host destinations of all of the meetings they held in 2016, 23 percent say it was at least $10 million, while 77 percent estimate that all their meetings brought an economic benefit of $1 million or more to their host destinations. Corporate planners report that their meetings in total benefit host destinations the most — an average of $8.5 million, followed by association planners at $7.9 million, government planners at $7.8 million, and independent planners and association management companies at $6 million.

Average economic value of largest meeting: $3.5 million

Expositions 

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Two-fifths of respondents (39 percent compared to 41 percent in last year’s survey) indicate that attendance at their largest convention/meeting/exposition in 2016 was lower than 1,000, and 63 percent (compared to 58 percent in last year’s survey) held a meeting attended by 1,000 or more attendees.

Square Footage of Largest Exposition

Total exhibition space rose 6 percent compared to the average exposition footprint in last year’s survey. Respondents report that, on average, their largest exposition had approximately 125,200 net square feet vs. 118,100 square feet in the 2015 survey. 

2016 Attendance vs. 2015 Attendance

Close to one-half of respondents (47 percent) report that attendance at their largest 2016 meeting increased compared to 2015. In last year’s survey, 53 percent reported greater attendance than the previous year. Twenty percent (compared to 9 percent in the 2015 survey) report a decrease in attendance at their 2016 event compared to 2015.  Average change: +3.6 percent compared to +5.3 in the 2015 survey

Projected 2017 Attendance vs. 201 Attendance

Nearly half of respondents (49 percent) expect 2017 attendance to increase, the same percentage as those who expected it to increase in last year’s survey.

Average change: +4.9 percent compared to +3.3 percent in the 2015 survey

 

Average: 84 percent

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More than one-half of respondents (53 percent compared to 50 percent in the 2015 survey) indicate that they had at least 100 exhibitors at their largest show in 2016.

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Three-fifths of respondents (60 percent, the same as last year’s survey) report that their organization picked up at least 90 percent of the room block for their largest meeting. 

Revenue 

Respondents report that, on average, 48 percent of the total revenue from their largest 2016 event came from registration (compared to 46 percent in the 2015 survey). Twenty-one percent came from exhibit sales (vs. 23 percent in last year’s survey), while 16 percent came from sponsorships and grants, compared to 19 percent in the 2015 survey.

48% Registration

21% Exhibit sales

16% Sponsorship/grants

4% Advertising sales

11% Other

2016 Exhibitors vs. 2015 Exhibitors

One-half of respondents (49 percent compared to 46 percent in the 2015 survey) report that the number of exhibitors at their largest show remained the same in 2016, while 38 percent say it increased (compared to 42 percent reporting an increase in the 2015 survey) and 13 percent say it decreased.

Average change: + 4.6 percent compared to +2.7 percent in the 2015 survey

Projected 2017 Exhibitors vs.  2016 Exhibitors

More than two-thirds of respondents (69 percent compared to 57 percent in the 2015 survey) expect the number of 2017 exhibitors to remain the same. The remaining respondents are much more likely to expect an increase (26 percent compared to 35 percent in last year’s survey) than a decrease (6 percent).

Average change: +1.5 percent compared to +2.3 percent in the 2015 survey

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Respondents report that, on average, food and beverage remains their single-largest expense, accounting for 31 percent of their costs at their largest 2016 event. Respondents indicate that they’ve been asked to cut a range of expenses for their 2017 meetings: 63 percent were asked to cut food and beverage, followed by AV (34 percent), shuttle service (29 percent), speakers/ programming (20 percent), rooms/housing (17 percent), and meeting rooms (14 percent).

Small Meetings

Number

In 2016, respondents held an average of approximately 40 small meetings: 22 meetings (compared to 34 meetings cited in the 2015 survey) with under 50 attendees, 9 meetings with between 50 and 99 attendees (compared to 5 in last year’s survey), 4 meetings with between 100 and 199 attendees (compared to 5 in last year’s survey), and 5 meetings with between 200 and 250 attendees (compared to 6 in last year’s survey).

Types

In 2015, respondents held an average of approximately 14 committee meetings, 10 training sessions, 9 seminars, 7 board meetings, and 5 other types of meetings.

Locations

Respondents held an average of 11 meetings at downtown hotels; 4 each at conference centers, suburban hotels, and airport hotels; 2 at resorts; and 6 at other types of facilities. 

Booking Window

Sixty-eight percent of respondents (compared to 62 percent in the 2015 survey) report that they are booking their small meetings more than six months out. Thirteen percent are booking 0–3 months out; 20 percent are booking 4–6 months out; 34 percent are booking 7–12 months out; 29 percent are booking 1–2 years out; and 5 percent are booking more than two years out. The overall average is 11 months, compared to 10 months in the 2015 survey and 9 months in the 2014 survey.

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Twenty-four percent (compared to 28 percent in the 2015 survey) report that they held more small meetings in 2016 than 2015, while 67 percent report that their smallmeeting count held steady — compared to 60 percent in the 2015 survey.

Average change: +4.7 compared to +2 percent in the 2015 survey15

 

 

Twenty-two percent (compared to 26 percent in the 2015 survey) expect to hold more small meetings this year. Three percent (compared to 8 percent in the 2015 survey) expect to hold fewer small meetings in 2017 than 2016, and 75 percent (compared to 66 percent in the 2015 survey) expect to hold the same number of small meetings this year as last year. Average change: +4.3 percent compared to +2.9 percent in the 2015 survey

Average change: +4.3 percent compared to +2.9 percent in the 2015 survey

International Meetings and Attendees 

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Twenty-five percent of respondents (compared to 21 percent in the 2015 survey) report that more than 10 percent of the registered attendees at their largest event in 2016 were international. On average, 7 percent of the registered attendees at respondents’ largest event were international, up from 6.3 percent in the 2015 survey.

Obtaining Visas

Close to one-fifth of respondents (18 percent) report that one or more of their attendees faced a challenge obtaining a visa in 2016, while 58 percent say it was more difficult to obtain visas than in the previous year.

2016 International Attendees vs. 2015 International Attendees 

Eighteen percent (compared to 23 percent in the 2015 survey) report that the number of international attendees at their largest 2015 meeting increased, while 76 percent report no change. Average change: +0.1 percent vs. +2.0 percent in the 2015 survey

Average change: +0.1 percent vs. +2.0 percent in the 2015 survey

Projected 2017 International Attendees vs. 2016 International Attendees 

Seventeen percent of respondents (vs. 16 percent in the 2015 survey) expect the number of international attendees at their largest 2017 meeting to increase, while 79 percent expect no change.

Average change: +1 percent compared to +0.2 percent in the 2015 survey

Future International Meetings 

Forty-three percent of respondents (down from 50 percent in the 2015 survey) report that they will be holding meetings outside the United States in the future.

Potential International Destinations

International destinations that respondents are most likely to consider:

Canada 75% (for U.S.-based respondents)

Western Europe 47%

United Kingdom 37%

Asia 33%

Mexico 30%

Caribbean and Bermuda 26%

South America 20%

Australia/Pacific Rim 18%

Eastern Europe 18%

Africa 8%

Characteristics of the Sample 

Each year, meeting planners who are members of PCMA and an additional group of Convene meeting-planner subscribers receive an extensive survey, which requests proprietary information and budget projections for their organizations. After answering an initial question on their professional role, respondents follow one of three survey routes: one for association meeting professionals and executives, another for independent meeting professionals, or a third for corporate meeting professionals. While each response path has several unique questions, many questions address the same area but are worded differently to reflect the respondent’s particular role in the meetings industry.

The data was compiled from nearly 300 usable responses that were submitted. More than one-half of respondents (62 percent) are PCMA members. More than half (59 percent) work for an association or nonprofit organization; 20 percent work for a corporation; 10 percent are independent or self-employed; 4 percent work for association management firms; 5 percent describe their organization as educational in nature; and 1 percent are employed by the government. Respondents work for associations that are almost evenly split between international (47 percent) and national (46 percent) in scope. Among those respondents not employed by associations, close to one half (46 percent) work for organizations that are international in scope, while 42 percent work at ones that are national in scope. Close to three quarters of respondents (71 percent) report that less than 10 percent of their members/constituents are based outside of the United States. Respondents who are independent planners or work at AMCs are most likely (83 percent) to have a national client base. 

Eighty percent of respondents say that meeting planning is their primary job responsibility, and are most likely to hold the position of manager (41 percent) or director (28 percent). Three percent are vice presidents, and 8 percent are CEOs. Not surprisingly, given those titles, this year’s survey-takers are once again an experienced group, with an average of 15 years of work experience in the meetings field. Seventy-seven percent of respondents have at least 10 years of meetingmanagement experience — and more than two-fifths (42 percent) have 20-plus. Given their tenure, these additional respondent demographics naturally follow: The average age is 46, and more than half (63 percent) have earned an undergraduate degree (with 19 percent having earned a post-grad degree). Likewise, as industry insiders would surmise, the vast majority of respondents (83 percent) are female.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.