Show Me The Money: Meetings Are a $280 Billion Industry

Three years ago, the Convention Industry Council (CIC) released The Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy, a landmark study aimed at quantifying exactly how much the meetings and conventions industry contributes to the U.S. economy.

The answers were based on data from 2009, when the industry was spiraling through the recession — and still were impressive: $263.4 billion in direct spending, $106 billion to GDP, and 1.6 million jobs.

Now CIC has released an interim update, with data from 2012, and the needle has moved even higher: $280 billion in direct spending, $115 million to GDP, and 1.8 million jobs. We talked to CIC CEO Karen Kotowski, CAE, CMP, about the new study, which was conducted by Pricewaterhouse-Coopers and supported by a group of industry partners, including PCMA.

Was the idea always to do a follow-up to the original Economic Impact Study?

Yes, it was. You know, I think we knew it was important not just to do a one-and-done. The first study was based on 2009 results, which we all know were from one of the worst years for the meetings industry in recent years. We knew that the numbers would probably not truly represent the industry in terms of the economic impact at a more normal time for the economy. So we had expected to do an update.

Were the numbers in the updated study what you expected?

We expected them to be up, we just didn’t really know how much, particularly since the rest of the economy was still recovering. Travel, meetings, tourism — we’ve been doing well compared to the rest of the economy over the last three years, so we had expected the direct spending to be up, and it was. But I don’t know that we really had any predictions. At least, I didn’t have any predictions as to particularly how much that might be.

Any particular surprises in the numbers as you were going over them?

Probably job growth in particular. Direct employment increased over time, when many industries didn’t have the same opportunity. So, in the last three years, we added about 137,000 more jobs in 2012 than we had in 2009.

The comparisons to other industries are also interesting.

Yes, in terms of our GDP, we’re still larger than the air transport industry, information data processing, the motion-picture and recording industries. If you look at employment, we rank much higher in terms of employment than some of the industries above us in GDP, like manufacturing petroleum, truck transportation, automobile, motor vehicles, trailers, parts manufacturing, oil and gas extraction.

In terms of the outside world’s perception of the meetings industry, are things different now than when the first study came out?

I think the industry has done a better job of getting out [the truth about] some of those myths, like that meetings are all boondoggles or big parties and there’s nothing of value going on. We’ve done a much better a job over the last three years as an industry in telling our story. Can we do better? Yes, I think we can. One of the goals of the Meetings Mean Business Coalition is to really articulate those stories in a more robust way than maybe we did before.

With some of the stories that have come out, particularly in the government sector, over the last couple of years — that’s what makes the news, because it’s negative. That’s what gets the attention. But what doesn’t get the attention are 99.9 percent of all of the other meetings that happen that help drive business results, that impart knowledge, that bring people together to do business and generate sales and revenues for their company.

This study can help add to that conversation. Not only the economic value [of meetings], but then we can tie those in with some of those other kind of intrinsic values that are a little bit harder to maybe quantify but certainly have good stories to tell.

What’s next? Do you see the study being updated again in another two or three years?

We haven’t really set a timeline in terms of a regular, firm update schedule, so that will be something CIC and its members talk about. I’d like to see it as something that we update on a regular basis, and not just when we need it to defend ourselves.

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.