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by Sarah J.F. Braley& Loren G. Edelstein | March 01, 2011

The U.S. meetings industry directly supports 1.7 million jobs, represents $263 billion in spending and contributes $106 billion to the GDP annually, according to a landmark study released on Feb. 17, conducted by PwC US and spearheaded by an alliance of 14 meetings industry associations.

"The Eco­nomic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Econo­my" is a quantitative analysis of face-to-face meetings. Among primary supporters of the effort, under the umbrella of the Convention Industry Council, were the Meeting Professionals International Foundation,  the Professional Convention Man­agement Association/Education Foundation, the Association of Destination Management Executives and the U.S. Travel Association.

Findings were based on 3,510 surveys, with questions based on 2009 figures. Of respondents, 2,700 were meeting organizers; venue managers, exhibitors and destination marketing representatives make up the rest of the sample.

For the study, meetings were defined as gatherings of 10 or more participants for a minimum of four hours in a contracted venue. Among findings:

Of the $263 billion in overall spending, $151 billion was related to the cost of planning and producing meetings, while another $113 billion was spent in related travel and tourism.

The meetings industry's direct contribution to the U.S. GDP in 2009 was $106 billion, more than that of auto manufacturing ($78 billion).

In supporting 1.7 million jobs, the meetings industry employs more people than the combined truck and rail transportation industries (1.5 million jobs) and computer systems design and related services (1.4 million). Meetings employment generated $60 billion in labor income in 2009.

The industry generated $14.3 billion in federal tax revenue and $11.3 billion in state and local tax revenue in 2009.

A total of 1.8 million meetings held in 2009 were attended by 205 million people.

Delegates, exhibitors and others spent $145 billion to participate in meetings in 2009. The majority of that spend (46 percent) was on registration fees.

"We cannot be in the same place we were two years ago, when nobody understood the value this industry brings to cities, states, the country and the world," noted Deborah Sexton, president and CEO of PCMA. She added, "We have a long way to go in terms of education on what this industry truly means."

Next steps call for a widespread awareness campaign targeting regulatory officials, politicians and the public. For a report summary, go to http://bit.ly/eum1aJ.