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Still smarting two years after
scrutiny of spending at bailed-out firms and a media fixation on corporate
extravagance put them on the defensive, the meetings industry's largest associations
joined forces to determine how much money the industry provides to the U.S.
economy. They hired PricewaterhouseCoopers, which found that meetings generated
$263 billion in direct spending in 2009. It's a number the associations hope is
impressive enough to counter any future allegations of the industry's
At the behest of Meetings
Professionals International, the Professional Convention Management
Association, the Convention Industry Council, U.S. Travel Association and
several other groups—but not the two largest U.S. business travel
associations—PwC determined the figure through a survey of meeting buyers
conducted in the spring of 2010, combined with "research and analyses of
industry, government and proprietary sources," according to the PwC
report. Those sources included several industry organizations and publications,
including Business Travel News.
The survey of 2009 meeting
activity began with the participating meeting industry organizations'
membership rosters, said PwC US convention and hospitality practice director
Robert Canton at a Feb. 17 conference unveiling the study at the National Press
Club in Washington, D.C. Weeding out duplicate listings afforded PwC 33,000
unique contacts with which to begin analysis.
"We started in April 2010,
and it took us about two months to reach a little over 3,500 completed surveys,
about an 11 percent response rate," Canton said. "In addition to
that, through the assistance of TNS Research, one of the industry's well-known
researchers … we contacted an additional 2,500 individuals representing
delegates, both domestically and internationally, that participated in these
meetings. In total, we had over 6,000 individual participants [who] completed
A lengthy period of "really
expensive analysis" followed the surveying, Canton said, to marry the
survey results with PwC's secondary data sources. The result is the $263
billion figure, which includes about $113 billion in travel-related spending,
including food and beverage and hotel expenditures, and about $109 billion in
meeting planning and production costs.
PwC hewed to a refined United
Nations World Tourism Organization's definition of a meeting as "a
gathering of 10 or more participants for a minimum of four hours in a
contracted venue," and used an economic model developed by the Minnesota
Implan Group to credit the meetings industry with supporting 1.7 million jobs
and contributing $106 billion to the annual U.S. gross domestic product and
more than $25 billion in federal, state and local taxes.
Industry Arms Itself With Data
Absent from the study, unlike in
some recent business-travel analyses, was any attempt to define a
return-on-investment metric that quantified meetings' impact in organizers'
"The primary goal was,
first and foremost, after a time in which our industry was significantly
misunderstood and vilified to a certain extent, we all needed to have common
data to demonstrate the contribution this industry makes to jobs, economic
impact and taxes," said MPI president and CEO Bruce MacMillan. "Now,
we have that benchmark data. We're all starting on the same page, and we can
tell our story in Washington or in small communities."
Although the 2009 criticism by politicians and some mainstream media of corporate events held by
taxpayer-supported organizations helped trigger meetings spending cutbacks, the
denunciations faded quickly and haven't really been an issue since.
Nevertheless, said PCMA president and CEO Deborah Sexton, the industry must
prepare for any repeat occurrence.
"We needed this study to
validate the value of face-to-face meetings," Sexton said. "We had
anecdotal data, but we now have a united research product that speaks to the
industry and not to the individual associations. Yes, the economy is picking
up, so it appears this industry is picking up, but the industry has to be
understood. We can't find ourselves in the same situation we were two years
ago, where no one understood the value of what this industry brings to cities,
states, the country and the world."
Several speakers asserted the
2009 figure represented a low ebb for the industry's economic impact, and said
further research in this vein was likely.
"This is the baseline, and
we need to keep investing in it," MacMillan said. "It's probably the
lowest point in terms of the economic impact of our industry in many years, and
we have to keep evolving it, making it more relevant and expanding it."