Associations back to in-person events but face rising costs and funding issues


Associations are facing key challenges including rising costs, finding and retaining new members, staff retention and data management, according to a new survey by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA).

The 2024 Association Meeting Needs Survey found associations want to diversify revenue streams and expand geographic reach, in addition to investing in emerging technologies and continuing to focus on DEI efforts and sustainability.

While the majority of associations (48%) are running at a profit, 14 per cent of associations are running at a deficit, with associations exploring new financial models to ensure long-term sustainability.

Just over half of the associations (53%) have been making changes to their business model. As seen in last year’s survey, there has been a notable shift in the business models of many associations and the diversification of revenue streams.

When it comes to in-person meetings, there is a clear trend toward running in-person meetings again, with 65 per cent of associations planning their largest meeting in 2024 in the in-person format. Fully virtual events are declining, from 56 per cent in 2021 to 6 per cent in 2024, indicating a clear appetite for the industry to come together again in a face-to-face format.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), alongside sustainability, have also become critical strategic imperatives.

Around 70 per cent of respondents indicate that they have a DEI policy in place, or at least are making some efforts to address DEI. This is somewhat lower than last year (80%), although this may reflect a different regional representation and variabilities on how DEI is interpreted across regions.

The survey reveals varying approaches to DEI initiatives within associations. Strategies range from dedicated committees and policies ensuring DEI across events and governing bodies to addressing gender perspectives and quotas for faculty representation.

The adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data-driven strategies is still nascent among associations. Currently, less than a third of associations are using AI in their day-to-day practices, leaving plenty of room for capacity and competence building in this area. Among the associations we see varied usage of AI, from basic applications like ChatGPT for translations and writing to more sophisticated implementations such as AI-driven urban modelling and plagiarism detection.

“Our industry continues to demonstrate excellent growth and flexibility in the face of ongoing global challenges,” said Senthil Gopinath, CEO of ICCA.

“Associations have taken the teachings of the last few years and used this information to make strategic decisions about operations and services, deftly adapting to the fast-changing nature of meetings and events.

“Now that many countries have lifted Covid restrictions, the majority of associations have returned to in-person events. We are, however, now seeing a new set of challenges, including economic and political developments that have affected operations globally.”