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Cancellations put 55 per cent of associations into ‘financial hardship’

More than 80 per cent of associations have been forced to cancel one of their flagship meetings due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey by Association Meetings International.

And worryingly, almost 18 per cent said the effect on their organisation had been ‘severe’ – meaning there were ‘major implications’ for ‘finances, staffing and organisational structure’.

Another 37 per cent said the effect on their organisation had been ‘hard’, meaning some restrictions on spending and staffing, but the pandemic had not posed an existential challenge.

The same number again said their organisation had suffered limited damage as a result of cancelling meetings, whilst only 8 per cent described the effect on their association as ‘negligible’.

The results shed fresh light on the heavy financial burden associations place on their meetings and events, with many relying on them as the main source of revenue, above subscriptions.

But for some there were more pressing concerns.

While 97 of the 160 associations who responded to our survey had rescheduled their congress until later in the year, only 17 (14 per cent) were ‘very confident’ it would take place.

Just over 45 per cent were ‘somewhat confident’ and 40 per cent were ‘not at all confident’.

In more positive news, where meetings had been rescheduled finding space in the same city – even the same venue – had not posed too much of a problem for meeting planners.

Three quarters (76 per cent) were able to re-book in the same city and almost all of those (74 per cent) will be able to convene in the same venue providing restrictions are lifted.

Travel restrictions had also led to a switch to online formats, with 60 per cent of those responding saying they had (or were planning) to convert one of their major events to a virtual format.

Is this coronavirus outbreak likely to change the way your organisation meets in future?

What you said:

“Virtual meetings will not replace all our meetings but will become part of the programme. More than even before, there is a need for flexible and more balanced revenue generation.”

“Smaller meetings will be done via Zoom or similar; larger conferences will have an online-track for those who cannot or do not want to travel because of the health risks.”

“We are thinking about various options: remote participation, some all virtual meetings, perhaps fewer face-to-face meetings.”

“Our organization is fortunate in that our event is biennial and took place last year in 2019. We are facing quite a bit of uncertainty for our event next year in 2021. We are looking at doing a modified virtual meeting in its place. While this is not a great substitute for an in-person meeting, it is looking like a real possibility. We need to make some tough decisions in the coming weeks as we only have a limited amount of time to be released from our venue contract for next year with minimal penalties unless the venue is willing to be flexible and give us more of a ‘wait and see’ approach.”

“We think people will still want physical meets but the reach that digital formats have cannot now be ignored. This requires a rethink of business models…pricing…marketing…everything!”

“We will definitely do more hybrid events and we will probably be more conservative in terms of securing accommodation allocations.”

“We don’t believe international events will be possible until 2022.”