The Border Beckons: A new survey of international meeting planners reveals a turnaround in full swing

February 2006 Successful Meetings magazine

In the fourth quarter of 2005, Successful Meetings and MeetingNews, in conjunction with Marketing Challenges, a New York City-based consultancy for international destinations, conducted an online survey of U.S. meeting professionals who plan international meetings. The goal: to get a picture of what the landscape for corporate and association meetings going abroad looked like in 2005 and what it will look like in 2006. Here is what the 392 survey respondents had to say.

Who's Going International?

Clearly the effects of 9/11 are starting to fade, as almost three-quarters (72%) of corporate planners said they are currently planning international meetings, while over half (57%) of association planners are also active abroad. And these numbers are on the upswing: A significantly greater percentage of planners (25%) predict the number of international meetings will increase in the 2006-2007 period than foresee a decrease (16%). In fact, many of these meetings are already in the planning stages, given that average lead time reported for an international event was 14 months.

There weren't too many surprises when it came to the type of meetings held, as association events skewed heavily towards conferences (75%) while corporate events were mostly a mix of conferences (58%) and incentives (45%). Marketing events are beginning to appear in greater numbers on the corporate side at 24 percent. Interestingly, corporate planners are creating twice as many international trade shows as association planners (18% vs. 8%, respectively) while association planners are hosting slightly more exhibitions (18%) than corporate planners (15%).


As the number of meetings continued to rise at a steady pace in recent months, the number of attendees actually dropped slightly between 2004, when the average was 218, and 2005, when the average was 203 attendees. But planners appear bullish for attendee increases in 2006, especially association planners, who are nearly four times more likely to expect an increase (25%) than a decrease (7%).

Further, the number of U.S. attendees at international meetings is very healthy, suggesting that Americans' reluctance to travel post-9/11 has subsided. At least half of the attendees at corporate (58%) and association (54%) meetings hosted by U.S. organizations in 2005 were from the U.S. Additionally, at 39 percent of all international meetings, 75 percent or more of the attendees were from the U.S.

Site Selection

There were some surprises regarding what respondents identified as important in site selection criteria. The two that were particularly interesting were attitudes towards exchange rates and membership bases. Exchange rates are not as critical, as one would expect: Only 24 percent listed them as extremely important to the decision-making process. Likewise, having a strong membership base in a region proved not to be critical to most association planners, as less than 30 percent identified it as extremely important.

The main destinations for international meetings are still in Europe, which remains the number-one region, selected by 68 percent of respondents. But Canada (61%), the Caribbean (55%), and Mexico (53%) are all perennial strong choices as well, with Canada actually rating ahead of Europe for association meetings, garnering 77 percent vs. 54 percent for Europe.

But there are destinations outside of those regions that are starting to make strong inroads into the meetings market. Latin America (24% corporate and 14% association) did surprisingly well. Most of Asia also rated well, with percentages in the high teens or low twenties. Mainland China made a surprisingly good showing, with 15 percent of corporate planners and 19 percent of association planners listing it as a destination where they either plan meetings or attend meetings.