Meetings Market Survey

Convene’s 22nd Annual Meetings Market Survey

Things are looking up, according to the meeting professionals who took part in this year's Meetings Market Survey.

Things are looking up, according to the meeting professionals who took part in this year’s Meetings Market Survey. Respondents say that over the last year, they’ve experienced growth in key indicators of industry health — attendance, exhibitors, size of exhibition space, and budgets — and in general they paint a brighter picture for meetings in 2013. But some vestiges of the recession remain, and doing more with less now seems the standard business model. “I think the No. 1 challenge,” one respondent commented, “is being creative with your budget.” Turn the page to learn how planners have taken stock of their 2012 events — and are sizing up what lies ahead.

Let’s get right to it, because it is good news. The majority of this year’s Meetings Market Survey respondents told us that 2012 was a better year for meetings than 2011 — from corporate training sessions for 50 employees to exhibitions with tens of thousands of attendees. Moreover, they expect a continued uptick throughout this year.

Stack the 2012 survey results against the 2011 survey results, and you’ll see only plus signs down the line, however slight some of the increases may be. Here’s a look at some of the average gains earned and anticipated:

  • Size of 2012 convention/meeting budget vs. 2011 convention/meeting budget +2.1 percent
  • Size of 2013 convention/meeting budget vs. 2012 convention/meeting budget (projected) +1.5 percent
  • 2012 attendance vs. 2011 attendance +3.7 percent
  • 2013 attendance vs. 2012 attendance (projected) +2 percent
  • Number of 2012 exhibitors vs. 2011 exhibitors +2.5 percent
  • Number of 2013 exhibitors vs. 2012 exhibitors (projected) +2.2 percent

These positive indicators have convinced most planners that the meetings industry has stabilized. Many expressed concerns, however. Among them:

  • Rising costs — “We want our suppliers to be successful,” one respondent wrote, “but are anxious about pricing — not to mention the increase in flight and airline charges.”
  • A lingering negative perception — Overcoming the “bad publicity of events that spend much more than they should” was what a corporate planner said topped a list of challenges.
  • “The cost-to-value ratio” — That’s what a respondent termed it. “Being out of the office is a cost just like registration expenses, and a lot of organizations simply can’t have people out of the office for three days at a time.”
  • Restrictions for government-employee attendees — This was often cited as a major hurdle. The government sector is “hypersensitive to cost issues,” wrote one planner, “because of various scandals.”

The rough patch that planners went through over the last few years has forced them to trim the fat; many said they continue to cut back on F&B and AV costs and remain vigilant about avoiding waste. For others, economic pressures have opened the door to different opportunities. “We are experimenting with virtual content capture and streaming,” one respondent wrote. “We anticipate that not everyone can travel to meetings as much in the future, and are also reaching out to those that are likely never to attend — in developing countries.”

What’s the overall sentiment about the state of the meetings industry today and in the near future? Mostly positive, although planners’ comments reveal mixed feelings. “I foresee 2013 into 2014 being the best years for the meeting and travel industry since the early-’90s!” wrote one respondent with a decidedly glass-half-full perspective. “People are craving the face-to-face connection. All the technology has now created something of a disconnect. Meeting in person creates more of a fun and interactive event instead of a boring educational event. Meeting planners are asked to raise the bar at every turn so that they will increase attendance each year.”

The planners who participated in this year’s survey seem up to that challenge.



38% Professional

24% Trade

24% Medical or health care


3% Other

Respondents who work for associations were most likely to be employed at a professional association (38 percent), medical/health-care association (24 percent), or trade association (24 percent). Eleven percent worked for SMERF organizations, similar to last year’s respondent composition — although this year, medical meeting professionals and trade association meeting professionals represented a larger percentage of respondents than last year. Respondents who worked for associations were more likely to work for one that was international (47 percent) than national (42 percent).


27% Fewer than 1,000

24% 1,000 – 4,999

13% 5,000 – 9,999

12% 10,000 – 24,999

9% 25,000 – 49,999

15% 50,000 or more

Association professionals responding to the survey were employed at associations that vary greatly in size, from under 1,000 to 50,000 members; approximately half (51 percent) worked for associations with fewer than 5,000 members.

Average: 14,917 members



39% Fewer than 1,000

26% 1,000 – 4,999

6% 5,000 – 9,999

14% 10,000 – 24,999

4% 25,000 – 49,999

11% 50,000 or more

Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of corporate meeting professionals responding to the survey worked at companies employing fewer than 5,000 individuals.

Average: 10,951 employees


30% Professional services

17% Technology

7% Consumer goods

7% Manufacturing

7% Pharmaceutical

39% Other

Respondents employed in the corporate world were most likely to work for a professional-services firm (30 percent) and to work for a company with an international market base (51 percent).


35% 1 – 5

16% 6 – 10

15% 11 – 20

34% 20+

More than one-third of respondents (34 percent) planned more than 20 meetings per year, and nearly two-thirds (65 percent) planned at least six meetings per year. Close to three-fourths of respondents (72 percent) expected their total number of meetings in 2013 to remain the same, while 22 percent expected it to increase; 6 percent expected to plan fewer meetings this year.

The average for association professionals: 11; independent planners: 12; corporate planners: 13. The overall average among all respondents: 11.



16% None

33% 1

18% 2

18% 3 – 5

5% 6 – 10

10% 10+

A majority of respondents (84 percent) hold at least one event with an exhibit every year, the same percentage as last year’s results.

Average: 3


3% Less than $50,000

7% $50,000 – $99,999

9% $100,000 – $249,999

17% $250,000 – $499,999

12% $500,000 – $999,999

23% $1 million – $2.5 million

29% More than $2.5 million

Close to one-third of respondents (29 percent) reported that their organization’s total convention/meeting budget in 2012 exceeded $2.5 million, and more than half (52 percent) indicated that it was $1 million or more.

Average: $1.3 million vs. $1.27 million in 2011 survey


Respondents indicated that the average total budget for their largest 2012 event with an exhibition was $1.9 million (up from $1.5 million in last year’s survey results).


Respondents indicated that the average total budget for their largest 2012 event without an exhibition was $800,000, up slightly from last year’s survey budget of $782,338, but down significantly from a high of more than $900,000 budgeted for 2009.



The largest group of respondents (62 percent) reported that their convention/meeting budget stayed the same in 2012 compared to 2011. More than one-fourth (28 percent) reported that it increased, while 10 percent reported their budget went down.

Average change: +2.1 percent compared to +0.8 percent in 2011 survey



Eleven percent expected their convention/meeting budget to decrease in 2013 (compared to 16 percent who projected budget cuts in 2012), while 73 percent expected no change (compared to 65 percent in last year’s survey). Sixteen percent expected to work with a bigger budget this year (compared to 19 percent last year).

Average change: +1.5 percent compared to +0.6 percent in 2011 survey


7% Less than $250,000

9% $250,000 – $499,999

6% $500,000 – $999,999

15% $1 million – $2.4 million

15% $2.5 million – $4.9 million

12% $5 million – $9.9 million

11% $10 million – $15 million

25% More than $15 million

More than one-third (36 percent) of respondents indicated that their organization’s total annual 2012 budget was $10 million or more, and close to half (47 percent) reported that it was $5 million or more.

Average: $6.9 million compared to $6.8 million in 2011 survey


65% Registration

57% Housing

30% Event-supply rentals

22% Trade-show management

12% Marketing/promotion

11% Event marketing

11% Party planning

9% Speaker selection

7% List acquisition

Respondents outsourced a variety of meeting-related services; they were most likely to outsource registration (at 65 percent, a big jump from the 35 percent of respondents who outsourced registration in our 2011 survey); housing (57 percent compared to last year’s 46 percent); and event-supply rentals (30 percent compared to last year’s 61 percent).


Respondents indicated that, on average, 38 percent of their organization’s revenue was derived from dues and 10 percent from sales. Thirty-four percent came from conventions, exhibits, and meetings — a 5-percent jump from last year’s survey.

Not surprisingly, corporate planners indicated that, on average, the bulk of their revenue (63 percent) was derived from sales.


47% Third-party housing service

38% Convention bureau housing service

17% In-house (do it yourself)

6% Other

The preferred methods for handling citywide housing: using a third-party housing service (47 percent compared to 29 percent in last year’s survey) and in-house management (38 percent compared to 41 percent reported in last year’s survey). Seventeen percent used convention bureau housing in 2012, similar to last year’s survey results.



Two-fifths of respondents (40 percent, the same as in last year’s survey) reported that the economic value of their largest meeting to the host destination in 2012 was less than $1 million, while 29 percent — compared to 25 percent in last year’s survey — reported 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 2012, 29 percent said it was at least $10 million, while 73 percent estimated that all their meetings brought an economic benefit of $1 million or more to their host destinations. Association planners reported that their meetings in total benefited host destinations the most — an average of nearly $9 million, compared to $8.4 million for corporate planners and $7.8 million for independent planners.

Average: $3.8 million compared to $3.4 million in last year’s survey



26% Fewer than 500

13% 500 – 999

21% 1,000 – 2,499

11% 2,500 – 4,999

13% 5,000 – 9,999

8% 10,000 – 24,999

8% 25,000 or more

Two-fifths of respondents (39 percent) indicated that the attendance at their largest convention/meeting/exposition in 2012 was fewer than 1,000, while 61 percent held a meeting attended by 1,000 or more participants.

Average: 5,442 compared to 4,164 in 2011 survey


Respondents reported that, on average, their largest exposition had approximately 124,336 net square feet, up from an average of 107,321 net square feet reported in last year’s survey.




More than two-fifths of respondents (42 percent) reported that attendance at their largest 2012 meeting increased compared to 2011. In last year’s survey, 38 percent reported an increase in attendance at their 2011 event compared to 2010. Fifteen percent reported a decrease in attendance at their 2012 event compared to 2011 — compared to 21 percent who reported a drop in their 2011 attendance compared to 2010.

Average change: +3.7 percent compared to +1.9 percent in 2011 survey




The majority of respondents (52 percent) expected 2013 attendance to remain the same, while 36 percent expected it to increase, similar to last year’s results.

Average change: +2 percent compared to +2.6 percent in last year’s survey


Close to half of respondents (44 percent) indicated that the total room pickup (all hotels) for their largest meeting was 2,500 or more. The average room pickup was 3,608.


54% 90% or more

30% 80% – 89%

5% 70% – 79%

2% 60% – 69%

<1% 50% – 59%

9% Less than 50%

More than half (54 percent) reported that their organization picked up at least 90 percent of the room block for their largest meeting.

Average: 84 percent, up from 80 percent last year


Respondents were more likely to hold exhibitions in convention centers (66 percent) than in hotels (42 percent).


30% Fewer than 50

17% 50 – 99

24% 100 – 249

16% 250 – 499

13% 500 or more

More than half of respondents (53 percent, up from 51 percent in last year’s survey) indicated that they had at least 100 exhibitors at their largest show in 2012.

Average: 184 compared to 168 in last year’s survey


34% Increased

13% Decreased

53% No change

More than half (53 percent) of respondents reported that the number of exhibitors at their largest show remained the same in 2012, while 34 percent said it increased and just 13 percent said it decreased. In last year’s survey, 26 percent said they had more exhibitors, while 20 percent reported a drop in the number of exhibitors.

Average change: +2.5 percent compared to +0.5 in last year’s survey


22% Expect to increase

Expect to decrease

72% Expect to remain the same

Close to three-quarters of respondents (72 percent) expected the number of 2013 exhibitors to remain the same. The remaining respondents were much more likely to expect an increase (22 percent) than a decrease (6 percent).

Average change: +2.2 percent compared to +0.3 in last year’s survey


47% Registration

27% Exhibit sales

18% Sponsorship/grants

3% Advertising sales

5% Other

Association and independent meeting professionals reported that, on average, 47 percent of the revenue from their largest 2012 event came from registration, while 27 percent came from exhibit sales and 18 percent came from sponsorships and grants. The distribution of revenue sources is similar to last year.


15% Audiovisual

9% Decorator/labor

1% Destination management

33% Food-and-beverage

1% Insurance

7% Marketing/promotion

6% Registration/housing

2% Security

6% Space rental

7% Speakers and entertainment

8% Staff travel and accommodations

Respondents reported that, on average, food-and-beverage remained their single largest expense, accounting for 33 percent of their costs at their largest 2012 event. Seventy-one percent said that they’d been asked to cut F&B expenses from their 2013 meetings, followed by requested cuts to audiovisual costs (35 percent); speakers/programming (18 percent); rooms/housing and shuttle service (17 percent each); and meeting rooms (12 percent).

Small Meetings

NUMBER In 2012, respondents held an average of approximately 21 meetings with under 50 attendees, six meetings with between 50 and 99 attendees, four meetings with between 100 and 199 attendees, and three meetings with between 200 and 250 attendees.

TYPES In 2012, respondents held an average of approximately eight committee meetings, seven training meetings, five seminars, three board meetings, and eight other types of meetings.

LOCATIONS Respondents held an average of nine meetings at downtown hotels (three each at airport hotels, suburban hotels, and resorts); two at conference centers; and two at other types of facilities.

BOOKING WINDOW Two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) reported that they were booking their small meetings more than six months out. Fourteen percent were booking 0 to 3 months out; 22 percent were booking 4 to 6 months out; 38 percent were booking 7 to 12 months out; 24 percent were booking 1 to 2 years out; and 3 percent were booking more than 2 years out.


13% Increased

6% Decreased

81% No change

Thirteen percent (compared to 17 percent in last year’s survey) reported that they held more small meetings in 2012 than 2011. Eighty-one percent reported that their small meetings’ count held steady.

Average change: +1.5 percent compared to +3.3 percent in 2011 survey


3% Expect to decrease

92% Expect to remain the same

5% Expect to increase

Five percent (compared to 12 percent in last year’s survey) expected to hold more small meetings in 2013. Only 3 percent (compared to 6 percent last year) expected to hold fewer small meetings in 2013 than 2012, and the overwhelming majority of respondents (92 percent compared to 82 percent last year) expected to hold the same number of small meetings this year as last year.

Average change: +0.6 percent compared to +1.9 percent in 2011 survey



39% Less than 2%

18% 2% – 5%

16% 6% – 10%

9% 11% – 15%

7% 16% – 25%

Twenty-seven percent of respondents reported that more than 10 percent of the registered attendees at their largest event in 2012 were international. On average, nearly 8 percent of the registered attendees at respondents’ largest event were international.


15% Increased

3% Decreased

82% No change

Fifteen percent (up from 14 percent in last year’s survey) reported that the number of international attendees at their largest 2012 meeting increased, while 82 percent reported no change.

Average change: +1 percent compared to +0.5 percent in 2011 survey


15% Expect to increase

3% Expect to decrease

82% Expect to remain the same

Fifteen percent (down from 17 percent in last year’s survey) of respondents expected the number of international attendees at their largest 2013 meeting to increase, while 82 percent expected no change.

Average change: +0.3 percent compared to +1.1 percent in 2011 survey


Thirty-nine percent of respondents (about the same as last year’s survey) reported that they will be holding meetings outside the United States in the future. Of those who hold meetings in international destinations, a third of respondents (33 percent) reported that their attendees participate in pre- and/or post-trips abroad.


International destinations that respondents were most likely to consider are:

70% Canada

38%  Asia

36%  Western Europe

34%  United Kingdom

28%  Mexico

27%  Caribbean & Bermuda

25%  South America

25%  Eastern Europe

21%  Australia/Pacific Rim

13%  Africa

Characteristics of the Sample

Each year, meeting planners who are members of PCMA along with 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 that follows were compiled from approximately 452 usable responses that were submitted. Two-thirds (66 percent) of respondents were PCMA members. Nearly half (49 percent) worked for an association or nonprofit organization; 19 percent worked for a corporation; 18 percent were independent or self-employed; 6 percent worked for association management firms; and 2 percent were employed by the government.

The departments that respondents reported to depended, of course, on their category and employer. With nearly half of respondents working for associations, they were most likely (42 percent) to report to the meetings and events department. Twelve percent reported to the marketing department, and nearly half reported to entities or departments other than meetings, marketing, finance, travel, procurement, or sales.

Most respondents held the position of director (39 percent), followed by manager (37 percent). Six percent each were CEOs or vice presidents. Not surprisingly, given those titles, this year’s survey-takers were once again an experienced group, with an average of 15.3 years of work experience in the meetings field. Eighty percent of respondents had at least 10 — and more than a third had 20-plus — years of meeting-management experience.

Given respondents’ tenure, these additional demographics should not be a surprise: The average age was 47.5, and more than half were college graduates — with 13 percent having earned post-graduate degrees. Likewise, as industry insiders would surmise, a large majority of our respondents — 88 percent — were female.

Convene’s Meetings Market Survey was prepared for PCMA by Lewis Copulsky, principal, Lewis&Clark. All material © 2013 by PCMA. Survey analysis by Convene Editor in Chief Michelle Russell.

Getting the Job Done

Site Selection

When it comes to tools for choosing meeting sites, site visits were ranked first by 44 percent of respondents. An equal number (20 percent) of planners said that online searches and one-on-one sales interactions were their preferred site-selection approach, and only 4 percent ranked fam trips as their first choice.

Booking Window

Two-fifths of respondents (42 percent) reported that they were booking large meetings more than three years in advance; 21 percent were booking two to three years ahead; 26 percent were booking only one to two years out; and 12 percent were booking their large meetings in under one year. The average booking window is 2.4 years.


Not surprisingly, the technology that respondents continue to seek most for their meetings is high-speed, wired, and/or wireless Internet access. In terms of social media, using a scale of “1” for “most important” to “4” for “least important,” 73 percent of respondents rated Facebook either “1” or “2” when it came to marketing their meetings and engaging attendees (versus 57 percent in last year’s survey). Sixty-five percent said Twitter is their No. 1 or No. 2 choice (versus 51 percent in last year’s survey), and LinkedIn was chosen first or second by 36 percent (the same as last year).

Virtual Meetings

Close to one-third of respondents (32 percent compared to 28 percent in last year’s survey) reported that their use of virtual meetings and events increased in the past year, while 61 percent reported it remained the same, and 7 percent (down from 10 percent in last year’s survey) reported that it decreased. On average, respondents’ use of virtual meetings and events went up nearly 2 percent.


A majority (65 percent) of respondents indicated that none of their meetings included a golf event, similar to last year’s survey responses.

Spa Access

Nearly a third of respondents (31 percent, the same as last year) said it is important for their attendees to have access to a spa facility during their meeting.

Cuts and Cancellations

The trend to cut back on meetings seems to have abated for now. Eighty-six percent of respondents did not reduce the number of days of any multiday meeting in 2012, and 90 percent had no plans to cut back on the length of their 2013 events. Only 15 percent canceled one or more meetings in 2012, and only 8 percent had canceled any meetings planned for 2013.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.