SPECIAL REPORT: Expo’s Exclusive 2012 Association Events Trends Survey Results

The recession may not be entirely over for associations or their events, but signs of growth are definitely clear and present. Almost two-thirds of association event executives report that their event revenue has increased this year over the previous year. This finding is just one of many from a new study, “2012 Association Events Trends,” conducted by EXPO magazine.

The EXPO study also shows that 20 percent of respondents say that their event revenue remained flat compared to the previous year (After all, isn’t “flat” the new “up”?) and 15 percent say their event revenue decreased over the same amount of time.

Looking ahead to their next events, the numbers remain similar when it comes to those projecting an increase in revenue (64 percent) or a flat year (19 percent). But the number of executives who anticipate a decrease in revenue for their next event drops to 8 percent, indicating a certain amount of optimism for the future.

Examining Growth and Revenue
Of those associations whose revenue is on the rise and for whom the future looks optimistic, the question is: So, where is the growth coming from? By far, the area in which association event executives say they see the greatest growth is attendance. More than half of survey respondents say they are getting more attendees. Twenty-two percent of respondents report that sponsorships are driving the most growth.

As for the largest driver of revenue (not necessarily where the most growth is), association executives (46 percent) report that exhibitors generate the most for them. More than a third say that attendance is the primary revenue driver, while sponsorships are noted by 16 percent.

The Virtual Reality
Depending on your point of view, it is either a glass-half-empty or glass-half-full scenario, but just over half of associations surveyed report that they are holding some kinds of virtual events.

However, those holding them appear to be having success: The vast majority now are holding more than one each year. Almost two-thirds of respondents hold five or more virtual events annually. Thirty percent of those hold more than 10 and just 9 percent say they hold only one virtual event in a year.

Investment AreasWhen asked where they are investing or planning to invest most heavily, the largest number of respondents (22 percent) have a single answer: educational program development. Following close behind is, first, marketing, with 19 percent of respondents indicating that this is where they are investing most heavily, and, second, technology to connect with customers (17 percent).

On-site enhancements to their events was lowest on the investment list, with 6 percent citing this as their primary investment.

Challenges Afoot
While more than half of survey respondents indicate that attendance is where they are seeing the largest growth, more than half also say increasing attendance is one of their top challenges. In fact, more respondents (54 percent) selected this as a top challenge than any other category.

Drawing and increasing sponsors ranks as second among the top challenges, with 36 percent of respondents indicating this is a major challenge. Close behind, noted by 35 percent of respondents, is growth in exhibitors.

Twenty-two percent say that both funding and heavy workloads also are among their biggest challenges.

The Challenge of Competition
Sixteen percent of survey respondents say that competition from other events is a top challenge for them. Where the emphasis lies, though, is in the source of that competition. More than half (56 percent) of association executives surveyed report their biggest competition comes from other nonprofit associations—regional and chapter events. An additional 12 percent noted that other national and international association events are sources of serious competition.

Less than a third of those who see competition from other events as a challenge say that for-profit competitors pose their greatest threat.

Top Priorities in Venue Selection
Selecting a venue can be a complex undertaking, with many considerations affecting the decision. It comes down to priorities: What are deal-breakers?

The survey asked association event executives to select the factors that are most important to them when selecting a venue for their events. At the top of the list? Venue location, selected by more than half of respondents (53 percent), and the availability of ample meeting space, selected by half of respondents.
Costs are also of primary concern, with 48 percent of survey respondents indicating that costs to the association is among the most important factors when selecting the appropriate event venue. Forty-three percent ranked costs to attendees next on the priority list, and more than a third are highly conscious of the cost of hotel rooms in the area.

Exhibit hall size also is a significant factor for 41 percent of association executive respondents.

With almost two-thirds of association events anticipating growth at their next event, meeting space and exhibit hall size may increase in importance.

As you and other association event executives are budgeting and planning for next year, these survey results—and the experience of your peers and competitors—will guide the process.

About the Survey
EXPO magazine conducted the “2012 Association Events Trends” survey Sept. 19-24. One hundred sixteen association executives participated in the survey, which was e-mailed to association event executives who read EXPO.