Meeting Mentor Magazine

April 2024

Big Blocks Are Back: Summer Pickups Gaining Steam

We’re back! ConferenceDirect’s Joe Vina and clients with ALPFA (Association of Latino Professionals For America) recently had a successful and safe pre-planning board meeting at Hilton & Waldorf Astoria.

ConferenceDirect’s clients who are opening up their housing and registration for upcoming in-person meetings and events are seeing some very strong indications that the lifting of pandemic restrictions — and pent-up demand for face-to-face meetings — is having a healthy effect on the meetings and events economy. Month-over-month demand for housing reservations was up 438% in April, and ConferenceDirect clients also are seeing an overall 625% increase in registrations, said Adam Briggs, Senior Vice President, Operations.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see this trend continue as we open up more and more groups — we are seeing an increasing consumer demand in terms of transactions,” Briggs said. Added Kathy Rasmussen, ConferenceDirect VP of Housing, “Almost all of our events actualizing through July and August are at 60% or higher.”

Not only are they registering and booking housing in droves, attendees also are booking extended stays. “There is a pent-up demand,” said Rasmussen. “They haven’t been able to get out, so now they are able to meet face to face, they want to stay a few extra days.

“It’s all very exciting and hopeful for the future. We’re seeing groups coming back, and we’re seeing that attendees are excited about being able to meet again face to face,” she said.

“Not only are we seeing big jumps in housing and registration demand, but they haven’t come at the expense of virtual,” Briggs added. “Virtual is also up month over month” to the tune of 148%.

A Few Cases in Point

ConferenceDirect Vice President of Global Sales Joy Cmiel

ConferenceDirect Vice President of Global Sales Joy Cmiel is one of the many associates to see the boom already playing out for her clients. “One of my client’s meetings is just going bananas — they sold out of both hotels, so we added a third. We sold that one out as well, added a fourth, and are now looking to add a fifth hotel,” she said.

Here are a few quick snapshots of what some of her clients are already experiencing.

– The leadership at the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America (POSNA) decided early on that, while going virtual was a good stop-gap solution in 2020, they were willing to take the risk to commit to going in-person for this year’s annual meeting, which took place May 12–15 at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. There were 365 registered for the live event as of late April, and more than 350 signed up for the virtual portion of the hybrid event, said POSNA Executive Director Teri Stech. The combined virtual and in-person attendance added up to close to the usual number of attendees, exhibitors and guests it typically would attract. “And our sponsorship is through the roof,” she added. “We actually have some new sponsors that have not participated in our annual meeting previously.

POSNA Executive Director Teri Stech

“This group is very social — they just want to be together,” she said. So much so, in fact, that some whose institutions still have travel bans planned to “fly under the radar” and pay out of their own pockets to attend. “They didn’t want to have to sit in their clinic or home office and watch virtually.” POSNA did livestream the entire meeting however, both to accommodate those could not attend in person, as well as those on-site who wouldn’t be able to fit into the socially distanced meeting spaces for some of the more popular sessions. “They could watch from the hallway, their guest room, or the coffee shop down the street,” said Stech.

Because attendees are healthcare professionals, most have been vaccinated, but POSNA worked closely with the hotel, as well as a health and safety vendor, to provide clear and effective COVID protocols, which were communicated early and often to attendees.

– Joyce Paschall, CAE, CMP-HC, CMM, Associate Director of Education and Engagement with the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM), said her association also wasn’t particularly interested in going virtual again in 2021 when the stakeholders began discussions last fall for the July 2021 annual meeting, which typically draws around 1,500 professional attendees and another 500 or so exhibitors and other guests. “We knew we had to keep the possibility that we may have to go virtual in mind, but we’re building it to be a live meeting.”

Joyce Paschall, CAE, CMP-HC, CMM, Associate Director of Education and Engagement with the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine

AOSSM and the Arthroscopy Association of North America (AANA), whose annual meeting was originally scheduled for May in Chicago, decided to combine their shows into one event, to be held July 7–11 at the Music City Center in Nashville. While combining with AANA would increase attendance a bit — there is some overlap between the two organizations’ membership, so the boost isn’t expected to be too notable — that wasn’t the real reason. “The impetus really was to take advantage of the two groups’ similarities and propensity to work together on projects. We took that word ‘combined’ to heart and blended the parallel program tracks together,” Paschall said, though each did keep certain aspects separate, such as awards and presidential speeches.

Both organizations were beyond pleasantly surprised at the results when they opened registration and housing in early March, she said. “It was like we opened the floodgates. Normally it’s a nice little pitter-patter of registration that builds up to the early-bird cut-off day, but our blocks started filling instantly, and our registration went through the roof.” As of the early-bird cutoff date, they already had around 1,000 professionals registered. “The numbers are trending much faster than usual,” Paschall said.

AOSSM also is seeing the extended-stay pattern Briggs noted, and the guest count is also “way, way up, beyond anything we’ve ever seen before,” she said. “They’re staying longer, the peak nights are longer, and they’re bringing their family and friends.” The meeting organizers quickly sold out of their first two hotel blocks, added a third and fourth hotel that also sold out, and are now looking to add a fifth. “People are excited to come, and we are continuing to pivot on that room block to open up new ones,” said Paschall.

AOSSM and AANA also are working with the Music City Center on the conference’s health and safety plan, which included some back and forth with the local health board before the announcement in April that the entire city, including the convention center, was opening with no restrictions as of May 14. The organizations still plan to have an indoor masking policy and other health and safety provisions to provide guardrails for maintaining a sense of safe gathering.

“I feel ridiculously lucky in that our trajectory has only gone upward,” she said.

OTA Executive Director Kathleen Caswell, CAE

– Kathleen Caswell, CAE, knew things were looking good for the Orthopaedic Trauma Association (OTA) annual meeting, scheduled for October 20–23 at the Fort Worth Convention Center in Fort Worth, Texas, when they got their highest number of abstract submissions ever. And it only started looking better when OTA opened up housing in mid-March, said Caswell, who is OTA’s Executive Director. “Our industry partners also are very positive — and they’re reserving exhibit space, which is a really good sign.”

The annual meeting, which had been scheduled for last October in Nashville, ended up not happening, though they had hopes up until the last minute that COVID, and its related restrictions, would subside enough to allow the meeting to go on.

Now, with a record-breaking number of abstracts, strong housing pickup, and positive feedback from exhibit sales, “It’s starting to feel maybe not completely like a normal year, but like we’re on the road to normalcy again,” said Caswell.

Cmiel said, “We are going gangbusters, and it’s exciting to be a part of it. We’re all looking at each other saying, ‘If you build it, they’ll come.’ And they are. Everyone is sick of Zoom meetings — not that there isn’t room for that — but people are hungry to get together and see each other face to face, and we’re seeing that reflected in the housing and registration numbers.”

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ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 4,400+ associations, corporations, and sporting authorities through our 400+ global associates.

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MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually.

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