Meetings Are Hot Again: Conventions Rising

Conventions and expos are back in big business.

In nearly every industry or association, annual meetings and conventions took a hard hit during the economic downturn. Associations strapped for resources struggled to pull them off at pre-recession levels, and attendees had a hard time justifying stepping away from work for several days in a remote location.

But new association membership has increased 52 percent in 2013, and participation in annual conventions has renewed value and interest as business leaders seek out and share innovative ways to get their work done and attract new business.

“Our [meeting attendance] numbers have more than recovered,” said Debra Moss, Vice President of Operations for the International Franchise Association. “Our numbers reflect what’s going on in the industry, and franchising continues to grow.”

Some groups are even increasing their annual conference budgets rather than scaling back.

“We are on the ‘fastest 50’ list of the top 100 shows in the U.S.,” said Brandon Hensley, COO of Sales and Marketing for the International Sign Association. “For the last four years, there haven’t been any budget cuts. If anything, our revenue has increased and our show has grown 14 to 15 percent over that time period. One of the reasons it’s growing is because I have a board of directors that gets that the show is a massive revenue generator.”

In response to this renewed buzz, cities such as Las Vegas, Chicago, Nashville, Denver and New Orleans are increasing and renovating meeting spaces, rooms and amenities.

Year after year, Las Vegas has proven to be a top city for meetings and conventions, thanks to lower room rates and inexpensive airfare into the city. In addition, conventions that alternate in and out of Las Vegas have seen an average increase in Vegas meeting attendance of about 13 percent over the alternate cities. Today, the city hosts more than 22,000 meetings each year, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

MGM Resorts International is increasing its Las Vegas meeting space by more than 350,000 square feet in the next year and is investing in outdoor entertainment areas for visitors’ enjoyment during non-meeting hours (see page 14 for details).

“We’re sending a strong message that Las Vegas is coming back through our commitment to add 350,000 more square feet of exhibit space to our existing 1.7-million-square-foot Mandalay Bay Convention Center,” said Martie Sparks, CMP, Vice President of Convention Operations for Mandalay Bay, where convention bookings have increased 18 percent over a year ago. “The business is coming back, more importantly, to everyone.”

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