The State of Association Meetings

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Skift Take

With fewer association meetings overall, the latest ICCA report reveals which destinations are gaining or losing market share in this competitive landscape.

The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) recently released its Country and City Rankings report for 2023. The report is an important reference for destinations tracking their success in attracting coveted association meetings. The long lead-up time and the partnership nature of association meetings make them a crucial target for destination marketing organizations worldwide. This report offers the association perspective in contrast to Cvent’s top lists, also published recently, mainly refelcting corporate clients’ destination and hotel choices.

“Our research team has performed exceptionally in compiling this comprehensive data. It’s a cornerstone for our association, providing invaluable insights that empower our members and enhance our community’s strategic positioning,” said Senthil Gopinath, CEO of ICCA.

The report is compiled based solely on meetings reported by ICCA members in each listed country and city. It’s important to note that only annual (or biennial/triennial) meetings that rotate between at least three countries or territories and have a minimum of 50 participants are included. This criterion has remained constant since ICCA started collecting this data, ensuring relevant year-on-year comparisons. 

Another data source is the Union of International Associations (UIA). Its annual International Meetings Statistics Report counts meetings of any size and considers meetings organized by all international organizations, including non-governmental organizations.

The U.S. topped the country ranking, as it has done since at least 1995, with several Western European countries, including Japan and Canada, completing the top 10. Among the top 10, Japan had the biggest increase, jumping six places from 13th last year to 7th this year. This year’s ranking for Japan aligns with its track record before the Covid pandemic, suggesting that the low 2022 numbers were due to the region’s delayed recovery from the Covid pandemic.

Paris, France, tops the city rankings in terms of cities, just as it did in 2016, 2018 and 2019. Singapore took second place, its best-ever ranking and Lisbon, Portugal, rounded off the top three. Like Singapore, which improved dramatically from 13th place in 2022, Rome, Italy, and Seoul, Korea, also attracted a much larger share of association meetings this year, jumping from 14th to 7th and 18th to 10th, respectively.

ICCA Country Ranking 2023 (top 10)

  1. U.S. (-)
  2. Italy (+1)
  3. Spain (-1)
  4. France (+1)
  5. Germany (-1)
  6. UK (-)
  7. Japan (+6)
  8. Netherlands (+1)
  9. Portugal (-2)
  10. Canada (+1)

ICCA City Ranking 2023 (top 10)

  1. Paris (+2)
  2. Singapore (+11)
  3. Lisbon (-1)
  4. Vienna (-3)
  5. Barcelona (-1)
  6. Prague (-1)
  7. Rome (+7)
  8. Madrid (-2)
  9. Dublin (+2)
  10. Seoul (+8)

Number of Association Meetings Only Back to 2010 Levels

The destination rankings only tell part of the story. The overall shortfall in association meetings adds an interesting twist. 

The 2023 report accounts for 10,187 association meetings in 2023, a significant increase from the 9,042 considered at the country level for 2022. While this increase is undoubtedly positive, the overall number of meetings represents 76.77% of the record high of 13,269 meetings recorded for 2019. The 23.23% global shortfall suggests that the association meetings sector still has a way to go if the overall number of meetings held is to be matched. This year’s figure is closer to 2010, when 10,070 association meetings were tracked.

Recognizing that 2019 was a record year, the overall number is still 79.88% of the average number of meetings recorded at a country level between 2016 and 2019, which sits at 12,752.5.

From a destination perspective, fewer association meetings mean less business overall, so the battle focuses on taking the biggest share possible. The stakes are now higher for every competitive bid.

Destinations Attracting a Larger Share of Association Meetings

From a market share perspective, Greece is the most improved country if we focus on countries hosting 1% or more of the overall meetings. This may sound surprising, given a ranking drop from an impressive 8th place in 2022 to 16th this year.

The country hosted 190 association meetings in 2023, while the average in 2016-2019 was 170. Due to the smaller overall number of association meetings, the additional 20 meetings represent a 40% increase in market share. In other words, Greece’s association meetings market share grew from 1.33% in 2016-2019 to 1.87% in 2023.

Italy is another country boasting impressive numbers, hosting a record-breaking 553 association meetings in 2023. Considering the market share, Italy hosted 5.43% of all meetings, a 35% increase over its 2016-2019 average of 4.03%. Also worth highlighting is the 2023 performance of Singapore, Norway and Portugal, which increased their market share by over 20%.

At a city level, considering those hosting 0.5% or more of the meetings, Rome shows the biggest improvement in market share, going from 0.75% in 2016-2019 to 1.17% in 2023, a 55% increase. Meanwhile, Singapore, Athens, Porto, Prague, Lisbon, and Dublin increased their market share by over 15%.

Top 10 countries by market share change

  1. Greece (+40%)
  2. Italy (+35%)
  3. Singapore (+26%)
  4. Norway (+24%)
  5. Portugal (+23%)
  6. Republic of Korea (+18%)
  7. Czech Republic (+16%)
  8. Finland (+16%)
  9. Belgium (+14%)
  10. Sweden (+13%)

Top 10 cities by market share change

  1. Rome (+55%)
  2. Singapore (+27%)
  3. Athens (+26%)
  4. Porto (+26%)
  5. Prague (+22%)
  6. Lisbon (+21%)
  7. Dublin (+17%)
  8. Milan (+15%)
  9. Oslo (+11%)
  10. Helsinki (+10%)

Source: ICCA Country and City Rankings 2023 report. Destinations are ranked by change in market share for 2023 compared to the 2016-2019 average. Only countries with a 1% or larger share and cities with a 0.5% or larger share of meetings from 2016-2019 are included.

Destinations Losing Out on Association Meetings

China, consistently part of the top 10 in the years preceding the Covid pandemic, now sits in 18th position. The country hosted 170 meetings matching ICCA’s criteria in 2023, a far cry from the 539 meetings in 2019 but a significant jump from the 109 meetings in 2022 when it ranked 26th overall. The country’s market share has dropped by 52%, from 3.48% in 2016-2019 to 1.67% in 2023. Similar market share drops in the Hong Kong and Macau territories. The slower recovery from Covid and lukewarm international relations presumably curtails its appeal for international association meetings.

Several countries hosting 1% or more of the association meetings in the ICCA database have lost more than 10% of their market share. According to ICCA data, the worst performers are Hungary, Brazil, Germany, Denmark, Chinese Taipei/Taiwan, Argentina, Colombia, Switzerland and Mexico.

At a city level, and focusing on cities hosting 0.5% or more of the association meetings in the ICCA database, the two largest Chinese cities, Shanghai and Beijing, dropped the most market share, with Hong Kong close behind. Perhaps the most surprising drops are those of three cities that have all been in the top 10 in recent years: Berlin, London, and Amsterdam, all dropping 15% or more of their market share.

Bottom 10 countries by market share change

  1. China (-52%)
  2. Hungary (-20%)
  3. Brazil (-15%)
  4. Germany (-15%)
  5. Denmark (-14%)
  6. Chinese Taipei (-14%)
  7. Argentina (-13%)
  8. Colombia (-13%)
  9. Switzerland (-13%)
  10. Mexico (-9%)

Bottom 10 cities by market share change

  1. Shanghai (-66%)
  2. Beijing (-65%)
  3. Lima (-42%)
  4. Hong Kong (-41%)
  5. Berlin (-30%)
  6. Budapest (-26%)
  7. London (-20%)
  8. Edinburgh (-20%)
  9. Amsterdam (-15%)
  10. Toronto (-14%)

Source: ICCA Country and City Rankings 2023 report. Destinations are ranked by change in market share for 2023 compared to the 2016-2019 average. Only countries with a 1% or larger share and cities with a 0.5% or larger share of meetings from 2016-2019 are included.

Exploring the Shortfall in Association Meetings

The cause of the shortfall in association meetings is clear, and ICCA alludes to this in the report’s foreword: “The meetings held in 2023 were the result of bidding processes that occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic.” 

So the question is, what happened to these meetings? And does this impact association meetings across the board? Diving deeper into the data reveals some insights into the type of meetings that can no longer accounted for. 

Breaking down the latest ICCA statistics by the average attendance of meetings reveals an interesting picture. Larger meetings are largely unscathed, dropping only by a small amount, while smaller meetings have dropped significantly. In 2019, the ICCA rankings included 2,386 meetings with an attendance of 500 or more. For 2023, this number was 2,073, representing 86.88% of 2019 totals. For meetings under 500, the numbers are very different: 12,088 in 2019 compared to 8,114 in 2023, representing 67.12% of 2019 totals.

Average meeting attendance20192023% of 2019
Source: ICCA

These figures suggest that most larger (500+) meetings have recovered and fallen into a predictable pattern. Meanwhile, a much larger portion of smaller meetings are no longer taking place. 

There may also be an argument for the shortfall in meetings coming from smaller associations that previously held small meetings, which may have succumbed to the financial challenges of the Covid pandemic. Verifying this claim would, however, require a much deeper look into the data.