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ICCA Report: COVID-19 Could Shift Priorities for Associations

By / Jun 10, 2020 (RapidEye/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

A new study from the International Congress and Convention Association finds that many associations around the world are considering changes to their model to adapt to COVID-19, but still want the support of industry partners even if they go virtual.

Due to COVID-19’s impact, associations are more than ever ready to make a change for the sake of the future.

But no matter what happens, they’ll always have their partners to lean on.

This is a point underlined in a recent report from the International Congress and Convention Association, produced in partnership with the African Society of Association Executives, the Asia Pacific Federation of Association Organizations, and the European Society of Association Executives. The Future of Global Association Meetings: The New Association Reality [ICCA membership required], a study of nearly 200 associations globally, notes that 70 percent of respondents have had to make changes to one or more of their meetings. But in many parts of the world, nearly 30 percent of respondents are seeing evidence that things are normalizing enough that travel might be possible for events.

A few key takeaways from the report:

Desire to make changes. Roughly two thirds of respondents say that they expect COVID-19 will affect how they operate in the future, and perhaps underlining that, the report highlighted that associations were willing to make changes to a number of revenue sources in an effort to adapt. The most notable potential shift: A change in membership models or fees, cited by 42 percent of respondents. Also being considered by large portions of associations are rethinks to meetings (47 percent), online education offerings (43 percent), and sponsorship strategies. “The simple truth is that we are still learning how to maximize the tools available on digital platforms and we are creating more and more authentic ways to communicate in digital spaces at an incredibly fast speed,” the report states.

Longing for face to face. Many associations expect to have a mixture of physical and virtual events in the future, for obvious reasons. But that doesn’t mean that attendees don’t have a strong preference for meeting in person. According to the report, 60 percent of respondents say that their members are telling them that virtual meetings have limiting factors compared to physical options, with respondents underlining that the things they most like about face-to-face meetings include the opportunities to meet new people from around the world  and feel a sense of community.

Desire for partnership. The report finds that nearly 80 percent of respondents said they’re open to using a meetings management company of some kind for future events—though what, exactly, they want from such partnerships varies greatly, with half of associations looking for exhibition management needs and integrated digital platforms, but interest in help with communications, sponsorship and fundraising, and event organization also drawing significant interest.

In a statement, ICCA CEO Senthil Gopinath notes that, during a difficult time, partnerships are what will keep everyone afloat.

“It is clear the partnerships between suppliers and associations have become more important than ever, and this is exactly what we are facilitating in our global community of suppliers and associations,” he said in a news release. “It remains a trying time for our industry but there is hope for all, particularly if we are flexible and work together towards new and creative solutions.”

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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