There has been a significant decline in professional association conferences compared to pre-pandemic figures, with a 34% reduction in the number of new conferences added to the system last financial year, according to Conference Monitor.
The data for the last financial year showed that only 1,021 new conferences were added, a considerable drop from the 1,552 recorded in the pre-pandemic period of 2018-19.
While some associations have transitioned to online events that may fall outside Conference Monitor’s scope, many have condensed their annual events calendar. Certain associations heavily affected by the pandemic have ceased major conferencing due to ongoing distress in their sectors. Others have possibly explored combined events with larger regional associations, according to Conference Monitor.
The most popular destinations for association conferences were NSW, followed by Queensland and Victoria. The healthcare and medical sectors continued to dominate, although they slipped 25% in total numbers since 2018. This decline might be attributed to factors such as pandemic restrictions or changes in funding, leading to reduced focus on medical education and networking opportunities.
In the advertising and marketing sectors, the number of conferences declined from 190 in 2018 to 154 in 2023. Some regions, like Queensland, experienced growth, while most showed a drop.
The monthly distribution of conferences remains surprisingly consistent with pre-pandemic figures. The later months of August to November and May were the most popular for conferencing.
Strategic Membership Solutions director Julian Moore said that the association sector’s historically slow-moving nature has forced it to adapt online.
“Most had positive experiences with delegate numbers, but the main downside was their exhibitors and sponsors,” Moore said.
“Many did not favour the online method as the level of engagement diminished.”
Moore further added that associations are now trying to implement conferences with online training workshops.
“The hybrid model appears to be the winning model for most association event calendars at the moment,” he said.
“It is anticipated that association figures will return to normal, but it will take a couple of years, as many are bi-annual events or face other logistical challenges.”
One significant challenge Moore identified are the large price increases in flights, hotels, AV, and room hire. Associations are reporting a doubling of costs to run the same events from 2020, even with tourism incentives applied.