AVMA announces new strategy for annual meeting

Are conferences in trouble?

January 22, 2009 (published)
By Timothy Kirn

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) will limit the number of cities hosting its annual conference to five locales beginning in 2015.

Currently, AVMA rotates its annual meeting between three regions of the country — the East, the West and Midwest — and varies the city. But in April, the group is going to decide on five regional cities, each of which will host the meeting twice between 2015 and 2024, said David Little, AVMA’s director of Convention and Meeting Planning.

“The meeting has grown, and this is a strategic plan that has been in the works for several years,” Little said.

The annual convention has gotten so large that it can no longer be accommodated by mid-sized cities, and AVMA expects that it can negotiate advantageous deals by promising a location that it will get to host the convention twice, Little said.

Cities being considered include Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Antonio, Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The plan is to rotate the meetings between the five geographic regions to make the travel burden equitable for veterinarians in every part of the country.

Last year, the annual convention drew about 7,900 attendees. That attendance figure was less than the figure in 2007, when the convention held in Washington DC drew a record 10,339 attendees. But Little said the 2008 attendance does not appear to represent any kind of a significant trend because the meeting was held in New Orleans, which may have given some pause, because it is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and travel costs were up due to high oil prices.

Still, the association's new strategy comes at a time when some say veterinary conferences could struggle in the near future, at least in the short term.

Richard Alampi, executive director of the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association, notes that the number of continuing education meetings has grown dramatically during the years, and at some point those meetings are going to begin competing with each other for show goers and sponsorship.

A calendar of conferences around the country, complied by Veterinary Practice News, lists 36 national- or regional-type meetings for 2009. Some note that veterinary medicine has three major national conferences — the AVMA Annual Convention, the North American Veterinary Conference, and the Western Veterinary Conference — where most professions have only one.

Saturation might have occurred already, suggested Alampi, whose association sponsors the regional Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference (ACVC). There is a sense among meeting planners that the attendance growth they have typically seen no longer can be expected.

“The word is that flat is the new up,” he said. “Obviously, the economy has had some impact on that.”

While ACVC had a 15-percent rise in attendance at its 2008 meeting, it had a 10-percent decline in attendance in 2007, the first slowdown it had experienced in 19 years, Alampi said.

Others agree that there might be too many shows for the companies that sponsor meetings and exhibit. Corporate sponsorship helps make the meetings financially viable, insiders say.

“We hear it at every single show, that there are too many shows,” said Teri Kado, executive director of the American Veterinary Exhibitors’ Association.

She and others note that the economy is causing potential sponsors to be more tightfisted. She said exhibitors aren’t skipping conferences, but they are becoming more selective about how many people they send.

“I think the economy is just making us evaluate the shows a lot harder,” she said.

Alampi said his conference and the others are finding it more difficult to secure “goodwill” grants, that is, general sponsorship from industry for the meeting.

“The pie can only be divided in so many slices before it gets too thin,” he said.

Still, AVMA appears optimistic about its new strategy.

“We’re not concerned about limited attendance; we’re looking to grow the meeting,” Little said.

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