Meetings Market Survey

Convene’s 27th Annual Meetings Market Survey

The U.S. economy gained momentum in 2017 and the meetings industry followed suit. There may be a few speed bumps in the year ahead, though, business events organizers say, especially for those who plan international events.

When we invited event professionals to participate in this Annual Meetings Market Survey in November, the U.S. economy’s growth was outpacing expectations. It was the first time since 2014 that the economy had experienced a growth of 3 percent or more for two straight quarters. In November, the economic recovery since the 2007–2009 recession was in its eighth year, and “showing little signs of fatigue,” according to Reuters.

Similarly, the chief indicators of the business-events industry continued to reflect a healthy economic environment, with mostly positive increases. There were a few negative changes between the results for this year and last year’s survey —convention/meeting budgets decreased by 1 percent compared to a positive increase of nearly 2 percent in the previous survey, and total exhibition square footage shrank by 20 percent — but these drops can be attributed to different respondent groups between the two years.

What seems more significant, however, are concerns about events that attract international attendees to the U.S. and those that travel to international markets. Close to one-fifth of respondents reported that one or more of their attendees faced a challenge obtaining a visa in 2017, but 82 percent — vs. 58 percent in last year’s survey — said it was more challenging to obtain visas last year than in the prior year. Only 34 percent of respondents (down from 43 percent in the 2016 survey and 50 percent in the 2015 survey) indicated that they will be holding meetings outside the United States in the future.

Open-ended comments from respondents shed more light on how events — specifically those of a global nature — are being impacted by politics, new regulations, and security concerns:

“We’ve given more attention to security, more marketing, and more concentration on attracting international attendees.”

“We are preparing for fewer European attendees as a result of new European regulations restricting the sponsorship of physicians to attend conferences in the U.S. We’re lowering guarantees and budgets to account for the decrease.”

“While the economy has been good, there are political factors that are impacting security for our face-to-face programs. I really do not expect this uncertainty to go away in the near future.”

“I think last year was a year of uncertainty and the unexpected due to political and environmental factors (e.g., travel ban). I hope for stabilization so that planning can be more intentional than planning for the unknown.”

“Science-based meetings with continuing education tend to have fewer massive fluctuations, but we must continue to focus on the value of face-to-face meetings as travel becomes more difficult and virtual content more accessible.”

Here are some highlights of the results:

  • Size of 2017 convention/meeting budget vs. 2016 convention/meeting budget  -1 percent compared to +1.7 percent in the 2016 survey
  • 2017 attendance vs. 2016 attendance+3.6 percent (same as last year’s survey)
  • 2018 attendance vs. 2017 attendance (projected) +3.2 percent compared to +4.9 percent in the 2016 survey
  • Number of 2017 exhibitors vs. 2016 exhibitors+2.7 percent vs. +4.6 percent in the 2016 survey
  • Number of 2018 exhibitors vs. 2017 exhibitors (projected) +1.4 percent vs. 1.5 percent in the 2016 survey
  • 33 percent expect to plan more meetings in 2018; only 6 percent expect to plan fewer meetings.
  • Spending lessDespite the continued improved 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, followed by AV costs (54 percent).
  • Contracting spaceTotal exhibition space shrank 20 percent compared to the average exposition footprint in last year’s survey. Respondents reported that, on average, their largest exposition had approximately 100,000 net square feet vs. 125,200 net square feet in the 2016 survey.
  • Thinking ahead  — The average booking window for large meetings is 2.2 years, slightly less than in the 2016 survey; for small meetings, it’s 9 months, compared to 11 months in the 2016 survey.
  • Renting suppliesRespondents to this year’s survey were most likely to outsource event-supply rentals (65 percent), followed by app development and deployment (64 percent), and other technology services (50 percent).

MORE THAN A DECADE OF DATA

Moving on to a broader analysis, on the following pages, there are more than a dozen places where we’ve included Annual Meetings Market Survey results from 2007 (published in the 2008 March issue of Convene) up to present-day results from the survey conducted in late 2017 — a broader overview we started last year.

Some benchmark metrics have not changed much in 11 years but stand out when contrasted with other data. 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 $6.6 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 they have frequently in previous surveys. Plus, a seller’s market has added to the challenge: “Yes, I think the meetings industry as a whole improved last year, if you mean more meetings were hosted last year and more are being contracted for future years. I expect to continue to improve at a slower pace now because venues are taking away or not offering concessions, plus have greatly increased room rates. I am finding it difficult to find venues that meet our needs and stay within budget. I feel that I am being pushed out into less desirable locations/hotels.”

Of course, technology continues to reshape events. While event-supply rentals topped the list of outsourced items in 2007, in the last few years, event-app development and deployment and technology services are equally outsourced aspects of event production. 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 this remains a largely untapped opportunity. 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 only 2 percent in 2017 compared to 2016.

Other disruptors, like the sharing economy, may be nibbling at the edges of the group-booking model, but only 26 percent said that they expect that a percentage of their registrants will use Airbnb (or another shared-housing platform) rather than their headquarters hotels or hotels in their room block — and no one said that they are working with Airbnb to make it one of their housing options. Only one respondent indicated that Airbnb is a major challenge today, and another sees it as something looming on the horizon: “I think there is a large risk with increased hotel inventory in destinations quarterly and the increase of hotel disruptors like Airbnb. When contracts are signed years out, there is no way to fully know how much inventory a city will then have and how popular Airbnb will be for attendees.”

ASSOCIATION PROFESSIONALS

Respondents who work for associations were most likely to be employed at a professional association (50 percent), medical/health care association (25 percent), or trade association (16 percent). Eight percent worked for SMERF organizations. 

Association professionals responding to the survey were employed at associations that vary greatly in size, from under 1,000 to 50,000-plus members; more than two-fifths (43 percent) worked for associations with fewer than 5,000 members.

CORPORATE PROFESSIONALS

Size of company

Respondents who work for corporations or government agencies were far more likely to work at those that employ fewer than 1,000 individuals (79 percent).

Average: 4,400

Type of Employer

Respondents employed in the corporate world were equally split between professional services and technology companies (30 percent for each), followed by consumer goods (20 percent).

NUMBER OF MEETINGS PLANNED

More than one-third of respondents (34 percent) plan more than 20 meetings per year, and more than two-thirds (67 percent) plan at least six meetings per year. More than three-fifths of respondents (62 percent) expected their total number of meetings in 2018 to remain the same, while 33 percent expected to plan more meetings this year. Only 6 percent expected to plan fewer meetings.

Average for government: 21; independent planners: 15; corporate planners: 12; association professionals: 11. Overall average among all respondents: 12.

NUMBER OF EVENTS WITH EXHIBITS

A majority of respondents (84 percent) hold at least one event with an exhibit every year, slightly up from the 2016 survey results.

Average: 2.9

2017 CONVENTION/MEETING BUDGET

Close to one-quarter of respondents (23 percent) reported that their organization’s total convention/meeting budget in 2017 exceeded $2.5 million, and one-half (51 percent) indicated that it was $1 million or more.

Average: $1.3 million

BUDGET (WITH EXHIBITION)

Respondents indicated that the average total budget for their largest 2017 event with an exhibition was $1.4 million, down from $1.5 million in the 2016 survey.

BUDGET (WITHOUT EXHIBITION)

Respondents indicated that the average total budget for their largest 2017 event without an exhibition was $700,000, down from $800,00 in the 2017 survey.

 

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

The largest group of respondents (44 percent) reported that their convention/meeting budget stayed the same in 2017 compared to 2016, while 35 percent reported that it increased, and 21 percent reported their budget went down.

Average change: – 1 percent compared to +1.7 percent in the 2016 survey (vs. +2.9 percent in the 2015 survey).

Projected 2018 Convention/Meeting Budget vs. 2017 Convention/Meeting Budget

Thirteen percent expected their convention/meeting budget to decrease in 2018, while 57 percent (around the same as in last year’s survey) expected no change. Thirty percent (compared to 33 percent last year) expected to work with a bigger budget this year.

Average change: +1.2 percent compared to +2.4 percent in the 2016 survey

2017 NET PROFIT FROM CONVENTIONS/MEETINGS

 

Less than one-fifth of respondents (18 percent) indicated that their organization’s net profit from conventions and meetings in 2017 was $1 million or more (compared to 25 percent in last year’s survey), while another 19 percent indicated that their organization broke even or had a net loss, the same as last year’s survey.

Average: $500,000 vs. $700,000 in 2016 survey

2017 OVERALL ANNUAL BUDGET

Almost one-third of respondents (32 percent) indicated that their organization’s total annual 2017 budget was $10 million or close to one-half (45 percent) reported that it was $5 million or more.

Average: $6.5 million

OUTSOURCING MEETING-RELATED SERVICES 

Respondents outsourced a variety of meeting-related services, and they were most likely to outsource event-supply rentals (65 percent), app development and deployment (64 percent), other technology services (50 percent), registration (43 percent), and housing (38 percent).

TOP OUTSOURCED ITEM, 2007–2017

2007    Event-supply rentals

2008    Event-supply rentals

2009    Event-supply rentals

2010    Event-supply rentals

2011    Event-supply rentals

2012    Registration

2013    Housing

2014    App development and deployment

2015    Event-supply rentals

2016    App development and deployment

2017    Event-supply rentals

ORGANIZATIONAL INCOME

Respondents indicated that, on average, 24 percent of their organization’s revenue is derived from dues, 11 percent from sales, and 13 percent from publications/advertising/sponsorships. Forty-four percent comes from conventions, exhibits, and meetings (up from 36 percent in the 2016 survey).

Corporate planners indicated that, on average, the largest chunk of their income comes from conventions/exhibits/meetings (39 percent); for association professionals, it’s 36 percent.

OFFERING CITYWIDE HOUSING 

The trend seems to continue to move toward handling citywide housing in-house. More respondents this year indicated that they manage that process in-house (48 percent compared to 47 percent in the 2016 survey, vs. 44 percent in the 2015 survey). Fewer respondents this year said they used a third-party housing service (36 vs. 42 percent in last year’s survey), and 15 percent used convention bureau housing service compared to 11 percent in the 2016 survey.

 

ECONOMIC VALUE TO HOST DESTINATIONS

Two-fifths of respondents (41 percent compared to 39 percent in last year’s survey) reported that the economic value of their largest meeting in 2017 to the host destination was less than $1 million, while 24 percent 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 2017, 22 percent said it was at least $10 million, while 69 percent estimated that all their meetings brought an economic benefit of $1 million or more to their host destinations. Independent planners and association management companies reported that their meetings in total benefit host destinations the most — $9 million — followed by association planners at $7.4 million; corporate planners at $6.1 million; and government planners at $4 million.

Average economic value of largest meeting: $3.4 million

EXPOSITIONS

Two-fifths of respondents (39 percent, the same as last year’s survey) indicated that the attendance at their largest convention/meeting/exposition in 2017 was fewer than 1,000, and 62 percent held a meeting attended by 1,000 and more attendees.

Average: 5,048

Square Footage of Largest Exposition

Total exhibition space shrank 20 percent compared to the average exposition footprint in last year’s survey. Respondents reported that, on average, their largest exposition had approximately 100,000 net square feet vs. 125,200 net square feet in the 2016 survey.

2017 Attendance vs. 2016 Attendance

Close to one-half of respondents (49 percent) reported that attendance at their largest 2017 meeting increased compared to 2016. In last year’s survey, 47 percent reported greater attendance than the prior year. Sixteen percent (compared to 20 percent in the 2016 survey) reported a decrease in attendance at their 2017 event compared to 2016.

Average change: +3.6 percent (same as the 2016 survey)

Projected 2018 Attendance vs. 2017 Attendance

Nearly half of respondents (48 percent) expected 2018 attendance to increase, around the same percentage as those who expected it to increase in last year’s survey.

Average change: +3.2 percent compared to +4.9 percent in the 2016 survey

More than one-third of respondents (36 percent vs. 44 percent in last year’s survey) indicated that the total room pickup (all hotels) for their largest meeting was 2,500 or more. The average room pickup was 3,037.

Percentage of Rooms Picked up by Organization

More than half of respondents (53 percent compared to 60 percent in last year’s survey) reported that their organization picked up at least 90 percent of the room block for their largest meeting.

REVENUE

Respondents reported that, on average, 49 percent (compared to 48 percent in the 2016 survey) of the total revenue from their largest 2017 event came from registration. Twenty-four percent came from exhibit sales (vs. 21 percent in last year’s survey), and 18 percent came from sponsorships and grants, compared to 16 percent in the 2016 survey.

EXPENSES

Respondents reported that, on average, food and beverage remains their single-largest expense, accounting for 29 percent of their costs at their largest 2017 event. Respondents indicated that they’ve been asked to cut a range of expenses for their 2018 meetings: 63 percent were asked to cut food and beverage, followed by AV (54 percent compared to 34 percent in last year’s survey); meeting rooms (25 percent compared to 14 percent in last year’s survey); speakers/programming (23 percent compared to 20 percent in last year’s survey); rooms/housing (21 percent vs. 17 percent in last year’s survey); and shuttle service (19 percent vs. 29 percent in last year’s survey).

SMALL MEETINGS

Number: In 2017, respondents held an average of 46 small meetings compared to 40 small meetings in 2016 — approximately 23 small meetings with under 50 attendees, 13 meetings with between 50 and 99 attendees, 6 meetings with between 100 and 199 attendees, and 4 meetings with between 200 and 250 attendees.

Types: In 2017, respondents held an average of approximately 15 committee meetings, 11 training sessions, 9 seminars, 5 board meetings, and 3 other types of meetings.

Locations: Respondents held an average of 30 meetings (compared to 11 meetings in last year’s survey) at downtown hotels; 3 at suburban hotels; 2 each at conference centers, resorts, and airport hotels; 2 at resorts; and 5 at other types of facilities.

Booking Window: Sixty-four percent of respondents (compared to 68 percent in the 2016 survey) reported that they are booking their small meetings more than sixth months out. Seventeen percent are booking 0-3 months out; 20 percent are booking 4-6 months out; 38 percent are booking 7-12 months out; 26 percent are booking 1-2 years out. The overall average is 10 months, compared to 11 months in the 2016 survey.

2017 Meetings vs. 2016 Meetings

Twenty-eight percent (compared to 24 percent in the 2016 survey) reported that they held more small meetings in 2017 than 2016 and 62 percent reported that their small-meeting count held steady — compared to 67 percent in the 2016 survey.

Average change: +3.3 percent compared to +4.7 percent in the 2016 survey

Projected 2018 Meetings vs. 2017 Meetings

Twenty-four percent (compared to 22 percent in the 2016 survey) expected to hold more small meetings this year. Six percent (compared to 3 percent in the 2016 survey) expected to hold fewer small meetings in 2018 than 2017, and 70 percent (compared to 75 percent in the 2016 survey) expected to hold the same number of small meetings this year as last year.

Average change: +1.7 percent vs. +4.3 percent in the 2016 survey

INTERNATIONAL MEETINGS AND ATTENDEES

Meeting Attendees

Twenty-three percent of respondents (compared to 25 percent in the 2016 survey) reported that more than 10 percent of the registered attendees at their largest event in 2017 were international. On average, 7.7 percent of the registered attendees at respondents’ largest event were international, up from 7 percent in the 2016 survey.

2017 International Attendees vs. 2016 International Attendees

Nineteen percent (compared to 18 percent in the 2016 survey) reported that the number of international attendees at their largest 2017 meeting increased, while 67 percent report no change.

Average change: +0.8 percent vs. +0.1 percent in the 2016 survey

Obtaining Visas

Close to one-fifth of respondents (19 percent vs. 18 percent in last year’s survey) reported that one or more of their attendees faced a challenge obtaining a visa in 2017, but 82 percent — vs. 58 percent in last year’s survey — said it was more difficult to obtain visas last year than in the prior year.

Projected 2018 International Attendees vs. 2017 International Attendees

Twenty-eight percent of respondents (vs. 17 percent in the 2016 survey) expected the number of international attendees at their largest 2018 meeting to increase, while 63 percent expected no change.

Average change: +0.9 percent vs. +1 percent in the 2016 survey

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 followed one of three survey routes; one for association meeting professionals and executives, another for independent meeting professionals, and the third, for corporate meeting professionals. While each response path had several unique questions, many questions addressed the same area but were worded differently to reflect the respondent’s particular role in the meetings industry.

The data that follows was compiled from nearly 300 usable responses that were submitted. More than one-half (61 percent) of respondents were PCMA members. More than half (52 percent) worked for an association or nonprofit organization; 20 percent worked for a corporation; 13 percent were independent or self-employed; 6 percent worked for association management firms; 4 percent described their organization as educational in nature; and 2 percent were employed by the government. Respondents worked for associations that were mostly international (53 percent) and national (40 percent) in scope. Among for respondents not employed by associations, close to one-half (48 percent) work for organizations that are international in scope, and 38 percent work at ones that are national in scope.

The departments respondents reported to depended, of course, on their category and employer. With more than half of respondents working for associations, 20 percent report to the meetings and events department. Thirteen percent reported to the marketing department and 25 percent of all respondents reported to departments other than meetings, marketing, finance, and travel departments.

Seventy percent of respondents said that meeting planning is their primary job responsibility and were most likely to hold the position of director (34 percent) and manager (24 percent). Eleven percent were vice presidents, and 11 percent were CEOs. Not surprisingly, given those titles, this year’s survey-takers were once again an experienced group, with an average of 16 years of work experience in the meetings field. Eighty percent of respondents had at least 10 — and half had 20-plus — years of meeting-management experience.

Given their tenure, these additional respondent demographics naturally follow: The average age was 47 and more than half (59 percent) earned undergraduate degrees (with 19 percent having earned post-grad degrees). Likewise, as industry insiders would surmise, the vast majority of respondents (89 percent) was female.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.