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ASAE annual meeting draws more than 5,000 people

Host city Columbus provides 600 volunteers in hopes of impressing attendees

ASAE Interim CEO Susan Robertson (at podium) shares details about ASAE's annual meeting. (From left) Current board chair Sal Martino, Experience Columbus CEO Brian Ross, and chair-elect Patricia Blake look on.

Aug. 13, 2019
By Walt Williams

COLUMBUS, OHIO—The 2019 ASAE Annual Meeting and Exposition drew a total of 5,476 participants to Ohio’s capital city, including 2,625 association executives, ASAE Interim CEO Susan Robertson said Monday.

Speaking to reporters, Robertson said her association was pleased with the turnout, with more than one in four attendees visiting the event for the first time. Attendance dropped from last year’s conference in Chicago, which drew a record 6,092 people. However, the group said that was to be expected since the Windy City is one of the nation’s largest association hubs.

This year’s conference at the Greater Columbus Convention Center was a first for ASAE, and the city went out of its way to impress in hopes of convincing attendees to hold their association meetings in Columbus. The local newspaper dubbed the event “the Super Bowl of Meetings” in headlines while the city’s visitors bureau Experience Columbus provided some 600 volunteers—more than any city that Robertson could recall.

“When we talked with Columbus and talked among ourselves about what we thought we could accomplish, more than 5,000 (participants) was what we thought about. Now look at that, we've exceeded it,” Robertson said.

Robertson said this year’s meeting filled the convention center’s expo hall with 710 booths representing 445 companies. As for the benefits for Columbus, the event itself was expected to generate an estimated $16 million for the city. ASAE also forecasts that 20% of attendees with influence over their association’s meetings destinations will hold events in Columbus within the next five years.

ASAE made few changes to this year’s conference compared to previous events. However, Columbus police did increase their visibility at the convention center in the wake of the two recent mass shootings, including one in Dayton, Ohio.

Brian Ross, CEO of Experience Columbus, noted the annual conference was just one several events that were being held in the city around the same time. Others included a Latino cultural festival and at least two major sporting events.

“With the unfortunate circumstances in Dayton, they did add more police officers,” Ross said.

ASAE capped the third day of its annual conference with a charity concert by music star and Ohio native John Legend, which the group predicted would raise more than $360,000 for the ASAE Foundation. Attendees also donated more than $30,000 to a variety of local charities, according to Ross.

Robertson provided a preview of things to come for ASAE’s future events. The association’s annual, two-day technology conference, typically held in December, is being stretched into a weeklong series of events that together will be known as TEC, with details still being hammered out.

ASAE is continuing its “pay what you want” pricing model for XDP, which will be held in May at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C. Attendees at the annual meeting can register onsite or through the ASAE app for the upcoming event and pay whatever price they feel is appropriate after the event. The experiment was launched last year and while it has yet to prove profitable, the group said it has brought in people who otherwise wouldn’t attend.

The association also is overhauling its Great Ideas Conference, which will be held in Salt Lake City for the next three years. Next year’s event will focus on a single topic—innovation and ideation—and will be capped at 500 attendees.