Event Planning

We humans are social animals and communicate best when we meet face-to-face. To be sure, the telephone and more high-tech methods of electronic communication now allow us to carry on conversations without leaving our homes or offices. Nevertheless, people value opportunities to meet in person to exchange ideas. We also enjoy coming together for celebrations, commemorations, rallies, sporting events, and other group activities. But bringing people together for events can be a complex undertaking, especially when large numbers of people are involved or when participants have high expectations of the amenities they will enjoy. As a result, an industry has developed to facilitate such events.

The accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that in 2009 nearly 1.8 million meetings took place in the United States, drawing 205 million people. The majority of people attending these meetings, 52 percent, came to corporate or business meetings. Another 25 percent attended conventions, conferences, or congresses. Trade shows drew 12 percent. Incentive meetings, which are usually given for sales workers, were attended by 4 percent.

This same study estimates that more than $263 billion was spent in the U.S. on goods and services attributable to the meetings. The largest share of this revenue, 41 percent, went to the planning and production of the meetings themselves. The next-largest share, 13 percent, paid for accommodation, 10 percent for food and beverages, and 7 percent for air travel.

Meetings generated $24 billion in federal taxes and $11 billion in direct state and local taxes. They accounted for full- and part-time employment of 1.7 million people, more than many better-known industries such as legal services and computer systems design. The bottom line that PricewaterhouseCoopers found was a total contribution of $458 billion to the gross domestic product.

Note that this study excluded weddings, holiday parties, concerts and shows, athletic events, political rallies, and consumer shows, all of which are events that attract large numbers of people each year and that involve considerable planning expenses. In 2011, 2.2 million Americans were married.

One industry study of weddings in 2012 found couples spending an average of $28,400 on weddings, exclusive of the honeymoon. One in three couples used a professional wedding planner, and those who did spent an average of $1,847 for the planner's services, up from $1,753 in 2011.

The professionals who plan these various kinds of events are known as meeting, convention, and event planners. Roughly 70,000 people work in this occupation. They often choose the location of the event, make arrangements for transportation, lodging, and meals, and handle numerous other details. Before the meeting, they confer with their clients to agree on a budget and what should be included in the event, visit meeting locations ahead of time to inspect the facilities, work out details with the staff on-site, and negotiate contracts with service providers. During the event, they monitor activities to make sure everything is running smoothly. They often travel and may have to work long hours during the event. They may have clerical support staff, and those make up the rest of the workers in this industry.

Because event planning is a relatively new occupation, there are no formal entry requirements, but employers often want job candidates to have a college degree, and a major in hospitality services is especially relevant. Some voluntary certification programs exist and can help with career advancement.

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