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July 22, 2009

SUCCESS BY ASSOCIATION 2:How does INCON’s early snapshot of association events this year compare to 2008?

Last week, MEETINGS:review examined the associations events market for 2008 through the ICCA’s research. But has the recession finally caught up with this sector? To find out, Ian Whiteling looks at INCON’s recently released study of the Global Association Conference Market, which took a snapshot of the situation in March 2009.

Always viewed as important element in the meetings and events mix, the conferences organised by the various associations across the globe have suddenly become more important than ever.

“In challenging economic times, association and government meetings are very often the lifeblood of the meeting industry,” says INCON’s co-chair Inge Hanser.

“According to their bylaws, associations are obliged to hold their annual meetings and congresses, and delegate numbers often rise as professionals use association events to engage with industry peers, learn about latest trends and professional developments and seek out job opportunities.

“Sponsorship by corporations is often negatively hit in tough economic times, while delegate attendance increases.”

Hanser is also keen to point out the benefits of the current climate for the associations themselves.

“The cancellation of corporate meetings has made the meetings industry a strong buyers market and that also benefits associations,” she says.

A one-stop shop
INCON was founded in 1990 by some of the world’s leading professional conference organisers (PCOs).

“Its aim was simple: to provide a one-stop shop to clients irrespective of where their meetings and events are held,” says Hanser.

“Each of the INCON Partners is a prominent PCO in their own country, each has the benefit of belonging to a global company. Clients are increasingly setting global strategies with local delivery, and that is precisely what INCON offers through our partner companies.”

Reason for the research
The increasing relevance of associations to its partners and the meetings and events industry as a whole, led INCON to carry out its inaugural survey of the global association conference market.

“The partnership felt strongly that our opinion of the meetings industry should be shared, particularly in these uncertain times,” says Hanser. “So we decided to produce the first of what will become an annual survey of the global association market. We are determined that the INCON survey will be one of the key data sources for the PCO and meetings industry.”

Inge Hanser: Associations are the lifeblood of the industry

Undertaken against a backdrop of a changing meeting marketplace in March 2009, the study surveyed 11 INCON Partners, which operate locally, nationally, regionally and globally from 73 cities in 32 countries. They organise 3,500 projects annually, serve 1.5 million delegates and manage budgets in excess of €58 million.

The results make interesting reading alongside the recently published ICCA study into activity in this area during 2008. Would the first three months of 2009 reveal a drop in the number of events associations are holding, or would the vibrancy shown in the ICCA’s research be maintained?

Key findings
The study canvassed INCON Partners on a range of topics, including sources of business, event attendance, industry trends, conference services, competition and employment.

Overall, the findings paint an upbeat picture, with Partners revealing that they are focused and optimistic about 2010 despite ongoing economic fluctuation.

They did, however, point out that they are handling fewer projects this year than they were in 2008. Their feedback also indicated that attendance at conferences is down for most Partners by up to 15%.

This indicates that the global recession is starting to have an impact on how associations organise their events, with the situation seeming to be one of cost cutting. This means that it is likely to be a much tougher year for companies relying on association events than was the case in 2008.

Staying upbeat
Despite this, for the most part, INCON’s Partners were confident that the current economic climate would not carry over into 2010, with only one partner forecasting continued downturn for 2010, and 70% of INCON partners stating that they are already seeing an upturn.

INCON Partners also revealed that they are responding entrepreneurially to the current changing landscape by increasing the range of services offered to clients. While the increased service offering is flat for 2009, most partners will offer a wider, more comprehensive palette of services in 2010 and thereby be better positioned to capture more of the overall conference or event budget.

“Marketing” was jointly ranked with “procurement” by INCON Partners as the major trend in 2009. What’s more, according to the partners, faced with falling attendee numbers at conferences, associations are increasingly seeking transactional transparency, added value and best price in their acquisition of conference and event services, while also seeking out new ways to increase attendee numbers.

The more organisers and the other elements of the meetings and events industry can help associations achieve these goals, the more of their business they will attract and the more loyalty they are likely to generate in what is an increasingly important market.

The complete survey is available at www.incon-pco.com

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