Industry Study Proves Meetings Mean Business

The United States meetings industry employs nearly 1.7 million Americans, spends $263 billion, and pays more than $25 billion in federal, state and local taxes annually, according to a highly anticipated study released today.

The study, The Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy, was conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) for a consortium of 14 industry organization members of the Convention Industry Council.

In fact, the study found, the meetings industry’s $106 billion direct contribution to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) is more than that of motor vehicle manufacturing, information and data processing, or air and rail transportation—and it employs more Americans than all of those industries combined.

Knowing those numbers, and being able to prove them, is critical, says Bruce MacMillan, president and CEO of Meeting Professionals International (MPI), one of the organizations that funded the study. “After a time in which our industry was significantly misunderstood, and vilified to a certain extent, we needed to all have common data to demonstrate the contribution this industry makes,” he says. By quantifying the money spent on meetings, the jobs they create, and the taxes they generate, “we can demonstrate once and for all the impact the meetings industry makes on the economy, “he adds. “Before this day we did not have that data. Now we can tell out story in Washington, or in communities across America.”

When you factor in spending by suppliers of goods and services to the meetings industry and the spending by the people those suppliers employ—what economists call the multiplier effect—the meetings industry is responsible for $907 billion in U.S. economic activity, 6.3 million U.S. jobs, and $110 billion in taxes, according to the study. And that multiplier effect takes the industry’s contribution to the GDP to $458 billion.

Even that enormous economic impact of more than $900 billion probably understates the case for meetings, says Robert Canton, director of PwC’s convention & tourism practice, the firm that carried out the study. For one thing, the researchers used the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) definition of a meeting—one that lasts a minimum of four hours and has at least 10 participants, among other things—so many smaller or shorter meetings were excluded.

“Also, it was conducted in a down year—possibly the most down year we’ve had in the meetings industry in an awful long time,” says Canton. “I think we can say with confidence that if we’d been conducting this study a few years ago or a few years from now, that figure would be over $1 trillion.”

By the numbers

The study found that in 2009, nearly 1.8 million meetings took place in the United States, attended by 205 million participants. The biggest segment, unsurprisingly, was corporate and business meetings, which accounted for nearly 1.3 million events with more than 107 million participants. Conventions, conferences, and congresses were next, with 269,800 meetings for 51.1 million attendees. There were 10,700 trade shows with 24.8 million attendees. Rounding out the four biggest categories are the 66,000 incentive meetings for 8.15 million attendees.

Beyond that, there were 178,100 meetings in all other categories, which attracted 13.48 million participants.

The next steps

Now that the survey has been completed, it has to be disseminated. That means organizations like American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) bringing it to Capitol Hill in March for its Legislative Action Summit. It also means individual meeting planners and other industry members telling people about it in their community. To that end, an industry toolkit is available, along with the report, at

It also means that, because the purpose of the study is help defend meetings against skeptics, the way it was performed must be unassailable. That is why PwC defined meetings based on the definitions and measurement methodologies in the UNWTO 2008 Global Meetings Initiative. Thus, a meeting lasts a minimum of four hours, has at least 10 participants, and is held in a contracted venue within the United States. Specifically excluded from this definition are: Consumer shows, social activities, formal education activities, recreational/entertainment activities, and political campaign rallies.

The survey was based on primary and secondary research. The primary research was based on surveys sent to 33,000 meeting organizers, venue managers, destination marketing organizations (DMOs), and exhibitors. A total of 3,510 of those were returned completed, although the return rate varied by category, ranging from 4 percent for exhibitors to 22 percent for DMOs. The delegate information was based on 2,250 surveys distributed to members of existing survey panels.

The secondary research drew on existing research from the industry, such as the U.S. Travel Association's Travel Economic Impact Model (TEIM) and the Business Travel News' Corporate Travel Index; U.S. government data from agencies like the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics; and private research from companies like PwC.

The following CIC-member organizations sponsored the study:

  • American Hotel and Lodging Association (AH&LA)
  • American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)
  • Association of Destination Management Executives (ADME)
  • Convention Industry Council (CIC)
  • Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI)
  • Destination & Travel Foundation
  • Financial & Insurance Conference Planners (FICP)
  • International Association of Conference Centers (IACC)
  • International Association of Exhibitions and Events / Center for Exhibition Research / *Exhibition Industry Foundation
  • International Special Events Society (ISES)
  • Meeting Professionals International (MPI) & MPI Foundation
  • National Speakers Association (NSA)
  • Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) / PCMA Education Foundation
  • Site & Site Foundation
  • U.S. Travel Association
Check out our list of the top 10 ways U.S. meeting dollars are spent.