A 50-Year Retrospective on International Association Meetings

A recent study released by the International Congress and Convention Association takes a look at the growth of the international association meetings industry over the last half a century.

If you consistently doubled your association’s meeting attendees or members, you’d feel pretty good, wouldn’t you? So, how do you think the international association meetings industry feels then? Since 1963, the number of international association meetings has doubled every 10 years, according to a recent study released by the International Congress and Convention Association .

It is … vital to recognize the massive improvements to society that individual associations and their meetings can deliver, and there are still enormous improvements to be made in that area.

Titled “A Modern History of International Association Meetings: 1963-2012 [PDF],”  the study—conducted to celebrate ICCA’s 50th anniversary—looked at the growth of international association meetings over the past 50 years in five-year increments. (The study defines these international meetings as events that are organized by international associations, take place on a regular basis, have at least 50 participants, and rotate between at least three different countries.)

“[N]ow that we have 50 years of data to study and consider, the figures are showing what we have long believed: that our world is undergoing a truly revolutionary period in the creation and dissemination of new knowledge and innovation, and that association meetings provide an excellent insight into this dynamic, worldwide process,” said ICCA CEO Martin Sirk in a statement.

The data, culled from the ICCA Association Database, reveals some interesting numbers and trends about international association meetings:

There’s More Meetings Now Than Ever Before

As stated earlier, the number of international association meetings has grown by approximately 10 percent each year, which means the number of meetings doubled every 10 years.

Over the 50-year period, 173,432 meetings took place. Only 1 percent (1,795) of these meetings took place from 1963 to 1967, while 31.6 percent (54,844) took place from 2008 to 2012. Worth noting is that this growth pattern continued during the economic recession of the recent years.

This study is not the only one to show growth and optimism:  A survey of international meetings industry leaders at IMEX Association Day in Frankfurt showed that they expect “significantly stronger future growth” for association meetings next year.

Europe Remains Region Holding the Highest Number of Meetings

In the last 50 years, Europe consistently attracted the highest number of meetings per region. However, Europe’s market share has shrunk from 72.3 percent in 1963 to 1967 to 54 percent from 2008 to 2012.

Asia and the Middle East have seen a rise in relative popularity over the past decade. Their market share of meetings has grown from 8.2 percent from 1963 to 1967 to 18.2 percent in the last half decade. (This falls in line with results of the fifth IBTM Global Meetings Industry Research study, which showed that the top-three countries from Asia—Singapore, Japan, and Korea Republic—are taking 23.7 percent of the world’s total meetings.)  Also worth noting is that Latin America’s market share has grown from 4.2 to 10.0 percent in the same period.

The United States Is the Most Popular Country for Meetings

The United States has been the world’s most popular international association meeting destination for the past 50 years. From 2008 to 2012, it hosted 1,848,110 participants.

Germany has been the number-two for the past 15 years. Besides the United States and Germany, there are only a few countries that remained in the top 10 over the last five decades, including France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. China, Brazil, and Spain are three countries that have seen a large jump in their international association meetings market share.

The Number of Participants is Shrinking

The average number of participants in international association meetings has dropped from 1,253 in 1962 to 1967 to 424 in 2008 to 2012. However, the rate at which attendance is shrinking is much lower than the rate of growth in the number of meetings. This means that while average attendance has declined by a little less than 20% over the past decade, the number of meetings has doubled.

And because of the increase in the number of meetings, total participant numbers have grown: While just over two million attended international association meetings from 1963 to 1968, almost 22 million attended them from 2008 to 2012.

Despite enormous growth in international association meetings in the past 50 years, Sirk and ICCA said the sector needs to do a better job promoting itself  and the industry in order to remain influential and relevant in the future.

“It is … vital to recognize the massive improvements to society that individual associations and their meetings can deliver, and there are still enormous improvements to be made in that area,” he said. “This is something that every association should be doing: showcasing and shouting about inventions, discoveries, advances, solutions, collaboration, and new pathways for the future. All of these wonderful products of association activity are on show at your international meetings, and this is when the world is most ready to listen to well-crafted messages that illuminate your members’ achievements.”

What do you think is on the horizon for the international association meetings market? Share your thoughts in the comments.

A 1963 photo of Moises Shuster and Jean Claude Murat, the travel agents who first conceived the idea of ICCA. (ICCA Facebook Page)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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