The number and frequency of meetings held by international associations, and the business travel they generate, is on the rise. The International Congress and Convention Association estimates that the number of conventions increased by more than a thousand to 11,150 meetings in 2012.

Europe is the most popular destination for international meetings with 12 out of the 20 top countries and 14 out of the top 20 cities located in the region; however, ICCA spokesman Mathijs Vleeming tells Skift that European destinations are slowing giving way to a rise in popularity of Asian destinations.

“We do see that there is a trend of the market share of European countries as meeting destinations are declining at the cost of meetings taking place in Asia Pacific, though” says Vleeming.

The greatest growth in an international meetings market took place in Copenhagen. The Danish capital hosted 137 meetings in 2012 earning it the eighth spot on the list, 39 spots higher than it ranked in 2011.

Vienna played host to the most international conferences (195) in 2012.

ICCA CEO Martin Sirk attributes the growth of the international meetings market to three factors:

  1. the necessity for international associations to meet on a regular basis
  2. the growth of science, healthcare, and technology sectors that such associations are commonly affiliated with
  3. the increased economic strength of certain regions, especially Asia and Latin America, stimulating the growth of regionally rotating association meetings

These international groups likely live online via newsletters and chat boards making annual or semiannual conventions the only time that a large number of members come together; thus the conventions begin to serve as the lifeblood of the organization and pinnacle in the annual activity of each.

U.S. cities’ missed opportunity

The U.S. has been the top ranked country in terms of meeting numbers for more than a decade, but not a single U.S. city made it into the top 20 in this year’s list.

ICCA pegs the country’s success on the sheer size of the U.S economy as well as the proliferation of U.S. associations organizing conferences, but blames individual city marketing organizations for not identifying the lucrative sector.

“U.S. cities have an opportunity to make huge progress in the growing market of international association business, if they decide to proactively focus on this sector,” opined Vleeming in a 2011 post.

ICCA is made of 950+ suppliers responsible for the handling, transporting, and accommodating international meetings from 88 countries, making it no surprise that it advises destinations and companies involved in the international meeting sector to tap into this growing niche market.

The ICCA database does not include all association meetings taking place worldwide. All association meetings in the ICCA Association Database must rotate between at least “three countries, attract at least 50 participants, and be held with a certain frequency.”

ICCA country and city ranking measured by number of meetings organised in 2012 are below:

RankCountryCity
1U.S.A.Vienna
2GermanyParis
3SpainBerlin
4United KingdomMadrid
5FranceBarcelona
6ItalyLondon
7BrazilSingapore
8JapanCopenhagen
9NetherlandsIstanbul
10ChinaAmsterdam
11AustriaPrague
12CanadaStockholm
13AustraliaBeijing
14SwitzerlandBrussels
15SwedenLisbon
16Republic of KoreaBangkok
17PortugalHelsinki
18ArgentinaSeoul
19BelgiumBuenos Aires
20DenmarkBudapest
Photo Credit: The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) Science and Technology Conference held in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria. Marianne Weiss / Flickr